Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

“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

 

Jesus Predicts His Death – Mar. 3, 2019

Writer John Irving has always said that he will not write a book unless he knows the last line of his novel. Then, he says, everything leads him to complete the book in a way that is honest to that last line. In Irving’s ‘The World According to Garp’, the last line is, “In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.” The book and movie is about lost people trying to live their life the best the can. It is comical and sad, and true to the last line, all the major characters do die. (Yet they live wonderful lives before they do).

Author and businessman Stephen R. Covey wrote in his book ‘7 Habits of Highley Effective People’- Always begin with the end in mind. From this, many Christians have coined the phrase, “Always ‘live’ with the end in mind.”

Many of the great saints also encouraged us to be mindful of our final end. Saint Bonaventure, who lived in Italy in the 12th century, wrote, “To lead a good life, a man should always imagine himself at the hour of his death.”

I try not to spend too much time thinking about how I am going to die. It seems rather morbid to me. I suppose the older I get, the more I wonder how much time I have left, but I have too much to do now to die!

In the TV series ‘Early Edition’, Gary Hobson was a man who got tomorrow’s newspaper today. That means he knows what is going to happen before it does and it gives him a chance to stop bad things from happening altogether.

Danish Theologian and Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

How many times have you said, “If I only knew then, what I know now, I would have made different choices?” Sometimes, it might be handy to know what is going to happen to you.

What would you change if you knew the future?  I think most of us want to avoid pitfalls and unnecessary conflicts? Right?

That is why, when I read that Jesus knew his future and predicted his untimely death 3 times in the Gospels before it happened, I am amazed. I don’t know about you but I am not sure I would want to know all those details (particularly in his case).

In Mark 8:31 we read, “He then began to teach them, that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

The second is in Mark 9:30-31 it reads, “From there, they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”

The third time is in Mark 10:32-34 as they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, it reads,

“And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again’.”

The strange thing is, even though he told them over and over again, they never seemed to get it. In truth, they didn’t want to hear it. If we go back to the first time Jesus mention his death, we will see why this is the case.

The disciples have faithfully followed Jesus and witnessed Him perform miracles, healings and share wise words After all they witnessed, they were sure he was the promised Messiah.

In Mark 8:27-30, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do You say I Am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

That must have been a good moment for Jesus. But now that they knew who he was, it was time to reveal why he came. He was about to share his mission with them.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed — and after 3 days rise again.”

Scripture says that Jesus spoke plainly about this, in other words, nonchalantly. But Peter could not contain himself; he pulled Jesus aside and rebuked him. Then Jesus utters those famous words, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Peter tried to rebuke Jesus — and Jesus put him right back in his place!

Taken another way, Jesus is saying, “Get back in line, you are acting like the devil now, not like one of my followers. I am the teacher. You don’t understand the big picture.” It was Jesus’ way of helping them begin to understand that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Isaiah 55:8.

Jesus not only rebukes Peter, but then shocks them by telling them that the cross may well be their future too. Those who would follow him will have to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus continues, “To save your life you must lose it.”

This news was contrary to the disciple’s expectations and difficult to comprehend. The second time he spoke of this they still did not understand him, but (Mark 9:32 tells us), “they were afraid to ask him” probably for fear of being rebuked again.

For just one moment, think about what they were hearing. Jesus was not only proclaiming he would die, but that he would be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They would demand his execution. This had to be a real shock to them. Those who should be the first to recognize and worship Jesus would turn on him.

German Theologian Rudolf Bultmann summarized the scholarly opinion of his day, when he said that the “predictions of the passion and resurrection… have long been recognized as secondary constructions of the church.” In other words he claimed that Jesus never really predicted his death and it was added in at a later date.

I beg to differ. There are many indications that Jesus knew he would certainly die a violent death. First, after John the Baptist was killed by Herod, in Luke 13:32, Jesus said, “Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today, tomorrow – and on the third day, I will reach my goal.” (Other versions say, on the third day, I will finish my course or accomplish my purpose)

And Jesus already knew the people he was dealing with, he understood all of the early prophecies. The Prophet Isaiah practically told his whole story. It told who he was, what he came to do and how he would suffer and die. You may recall; when Jesus sat down in the temple to teach, he read from Isaiah 61:1-2.

Just prior to that, Isaiah 59:4-6 explains, “No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil… Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands.” Also in that paragraph, Isaiah explains that we are like cunning serpents – and spiders whose webs are meant to ensnare others.

Paul explains ‘us’ like this in Romans 3:10-17, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

Jesus clearly knew what he was getting himself into. He knew that one of his disciples would betray him and that all of them would abandon him. It is no stretch to think that Jesus knew he would die. The stretch actually comes as the disciples and all of us try to wrap our mind around Jesus’ mission. If you and I were in Jesus’ place, why should we care? Why give our life for such fallen, lost people. Why go through all the pain and suffering?

Jesus knew how bad it would be, why else would he pray and shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to remove this cup of suffering? But, Jesus said, God’s will not mine.

You see, that is the real ‘Good News’; listen carefully, no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God loves you and he sees far more than you or we can see. Each person is of sacred worth.

Our discipline reads, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” and that all persons need the ministry of the church; all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, economic condition, and we can add; gender, sexual orientation or mental state. All need Jesus – and all are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.

You will notice, there is nothing in there that says we have to agree on everything or affirm every person in every way. But we are called to love like God loves all his people.

Jesus, himself, said it very well when he was asked, which one is the greatest commandment. He replied in Matthew 22:37-40;

He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I want to end with this true story. On February 17, 1941, polish priest Maximilian Kolbe was arrested by the German army for helping publish anti-Nazi propaganda. In May he was transferred to Auschwitz. Although he continued to act as a priest in the prison, he suffered harassment, violent beatings and lashings. After one prisoner escaped, they decided to pick 10 men, as examples, to starve them to death.

When one of the men was selected, he screamed, “My wife! My Children!” Having compassion and knowing he had neither a wife nor children, Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He did not know the man or ask any questions; he simple gave his life out of love.

That is living like Jesus Christ.

Your assignment this week is… in your quite time with God, pray this little prayer,

“God, show me who you really are – and not just who I want you to be.”

Then teach us to love others – as you love us all.

May it be so, Amen.

The Lord of the Sabbath – Feb. 24, 2019

On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, NASA launched the space shuttle Challenger from Cape CanaveralFlorida, against the wishes of engineer Allan McDonald. The flight had been put off 7 times due mostly to adverse weather conditions but also some mechanical issues.

After working 20 hours straight to make some repairs, McDonald wanted time to rest and then recheck the asbestos-silica insulation. The insulation may not be as effective if temperatures were too cold. So, McDonald had refused to sign off on the document waving all safety concerns. On that fateful morning, McDonald watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and broke up over the Atlantic Ocean, 73 seconds into its flight.

Allan McDonald wrote about what happened later in his book, “Truth, Lies and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster”. When McDonald tried to shed light on what really happened, he was removed from his job, demoted and blamed for his lack of oversight on the Challenger project.

It was much later, that he was vindicated after an in-depth investigation. The failure fell on others who were in a rush to get the Shuttle into space. They believed the multiple delays were worse for NASA’s reputation than taking a chance of the launch going bad. They were wrong.

McDonald writes, “Sometimes our exhaustion makes us dangerous.” And how right he is; Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989 have all been blamed, in part, because staff was too tired to make good judgments.

Mankind was not designed to run on empty. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night to feel rested. After 3 or 4 nights without sleep, we often begin to hallucinate. In fact, experts tell us that that we would die without some sleep. The best-known case of this is that of Michael Corke who died after 6 months of total sleep deprivation.

It was God himself who created us and set an example for us. (Even though God does not need sleep). Genesis 2:1-3 reads, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because ‘on it’ he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Exodus 20:8-11, God spoke these words to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it, you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in 6 days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

While both of these passages seem pretty clear, the people of God have always had trouble keeping the Sabbath. The Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God, so God sent prophets to warn them of his displeasure.

Jeremiah 17:21-23 reads, “This is what the Lord says: be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 

“Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.”

Nehemiah 13:15, “In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 

Verse 17 reads, “I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”

Because the Israelites were not faithful, the nation was taken into exile by Babylon for 70 years. Upon their release, the need to take a Sabbath Day became a deeply held value. So much so, that they put some very strict and burdensome laws in place.

Which brings us to Mark chapter 2…One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were taking a leisurely stroll on their route to worship at the synagogue. As usual, a crowd of people followed them closely; including Teachers of the Law and Pharisees. As they were passing through a grainfield, Jesus and his disciples (See Luke 6:2) began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands to remove the wheat from the chaff and eat the kernels.

Immediately the Pharisees asked, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Picking grain made them guilty of reaping, rubbing in their hands made them guilty of threshing, blowing the chaff from their hands made them guilty of winnowing and chewing made them guilty of grinding the wheat. Seriously!

In ‘The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah’, by Alfred Edersheim he explains how fanatical the Jews became about breaking the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word sabbaton. Its root is the verb “to cease.” In the Jewish Talmud, there were 24 chapters related to keeping the Sabbath (39 categories). For example, you couldn’t travel more than 3 thousand feet. Some say you can’t go more than 19 hundred and 99 steps in one direction. (That is about 7/8ths of a mile)

A tailor couldn’t carry his needle. The scribe couldn’t carry his pen. Wool couldn’t be dyed. Nothing could be sold. Nothing could be bought. Nothing could be washed. No fire could be lit. Cold water could be poured on warm, but warm couldn’t be poured on cold. And an egg could not be boiled. If a candle was lit, you couldn’t put it out. If it wasn’t lit, you couldn’t light it. Chairs couldn’t be moved. Women couldn’t wear jewelry – because jewelry often weighs more than a dried fig. A vegetable couldn’t be left in salt because it would pickle it.

There were laws about picking up jars of wine, milk, and honey; laws against spitting and getting dirt off your clothes. There was; no binding sheaves, kneading, baking, spinning wool, making threads, making a knot, or untying a knot. Men were not to help an animal in need or fight to protect their property. In one incidence, many Jews died because they refused to fight on the Sabbath.

You talk about a heavy laden. The system was oppressive and it was all unscriptural and horribly ungodly and brutally unkind. It is no wonder that Jesus took offense to it.  All Jesus and his disciples were doing was eating a little grain from the field because they were hungry. Ironically, even though the Pharisees disapproved, scripture actually Ok’d it!

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 has a wonderful passage for travelers it reads, “If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.”

So, Jesus responded in a way that he knew would get under their skin, he said, “Have you never read?”   These were the experts in the Law; of course they read and memorized scripture.

Jesus then goes on to interpret an incident involving David, as he and his companions were running away from King Saul. Here is the gist of the story; 1 Samuel 21 explains how David and his friends arrived in Nob, a town that is about one mile north of Jerusalem.

They had no food and they were hungry, so they asked Ahimelech, the priest, for bread. The priest responded, I have no ordinary bread – only holy consecrated bread. Then, the priest told David that they may have some of the Holy bread if they are pure not having defiled their bodies. (By being around a dead body or with impure women)

This bread was only to be eaten by the priests but in an emergency, under the right conditions it can be shared with someone in need; this is part of ‘the mercy rule’. And so the priest allowed David and his men to eat holy bread.

Then Jesus explained, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” You see, man was created first, the law came after. God intended the Sabbath Day to be a day of rest and reflection. It was a day to remember all that God has done for us. It was meant to be a blessing, not a curse.

1 John 5:2-3 reads, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”

This event hit at the heart of the Law interpreted by the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus knew more about it than they did! He was kind, merciful and thoughtful. They were callus, insensitive, crude, compassionless, and showed no mercy. Then Jesus said something that they could not ignore. He said, “So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28) In other words, he was declaring that he was God in flesh. And he had a right to interpret Holy Scripture in ways they did not.

To them this was the height of hypocrisy; this was blasphemy. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, ignored their laws, and insulted them. Is it any wonder that they wanted him killed? The thing is, they read God’s laws but they never really understood them.

Some like to claim that Jesus just tossed out the law of resting on the Sabbath when he came, but that is not the case. Rev. John Piper writes, “So Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Sabbath but to dig it out from under the mountain of legalistic sediment, and give it to us again as a blessing rather than a burden.”

I guess the question is, how far do we carry it? Are we to abstain from doing anything on Sunday? Romans 14:5-6 tackles that, “One person considers one day more sacred than another;  another considers everyday alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.”

Also Colossians 2:16-17 reads, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

The day is less important than the time we set aside for our relationship with God. The Israelites celebrated the Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. Christian’s celebrate The Lord’s Day on Sunday. But the principle is the same; we should set aside time to worship, remember and thank God – and to rest. And as Jesus reminded us, it is a wonderful day to do good works and to show mercy.

Jesus 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.”

The great theologian Eugene Peterson describes the Sabbath as, “that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing”.

One pastor wrote, “Sabbath is taking a day a week to remind myself that I did not make the world and that it will continue to exist without my efforts. It is a day when my work is done, even if it isn’t. And it should be a day when I allow God alone to work in and through me in love and mercy. In him I will rest and be grateful.”

One last story. There was a church in Holland that was strictly bound to keeping the Sabbath Holy. One Sunday the area they were in was threatened by high winds and ferocious waves. In fact, the tide was so high, it threatened to bust the dyke if it was strengthened and the town would be washed away. The police notified the pastor of the danger and asked for help. Unable to make a quick decision, they called a meeting of the church council to discuss the situation. The overall consensus was that God would never let anything like that happen on a Sunday. So they prayed and held worship.

You know what happened right? Sometimes certain things must go on the back burner, because mercy, compassion and love is what Jesus is calling us too, first. We should never be so legalistic so that we miss the world passing before our very eyes. Because then we become as guilty as the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.

By the way, after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, NASA did some research on the affects of how being tired affected pilots decisions. Here was the outcome; pilots’ performance increased 34% after a 26-minute nap in the afternoon. Rest matters!

Your assignment is…to take some time this week to rest, and thank God for all he has brought you through this past week. I hope you do that regularly already, but if not…make it a routine practice.

Amen.

Jesus’ 1st Miracle – Feb. 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray and Take action.

Amen

Jesus Rejected – Feb. 10, 2019 

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some serious rejection!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is your assignment…       Amen.