Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2020

The Narrow Door – Mar. 29, 2020

An airline captain was breaking in a new stewardess. As often happens, the route they were flying had a layover in Chicago. Upon their arrival, the captain shared with the stewardess the best places for airline personnel to eat, shop and stay overnight.

The next morning, as the pilot was preparing the crew for the day’s flight, he noticed the new stewardess was missing. He knew which room she was in at the hotel and called her up wondering what happened. She answered the phone immediately, crying, and said she couldn’t get out of her room.

“You can’t get out of your room?” the captain asked, “Why not?”

The stewardess sobbed: “There are only three doors in here; one is the bathroom, one is the closet, and the last one has a sign on it that says, ‘Do Not Disturb’!”


Doors are an amazing invention. Whether they be screen doors, lifting garage doors, revolving doors, sliding doors, or even folding doors; doors mark or direct entry or exit into a particular place and they can also provide protection.

Doors open. Doors shut. Some doors let us in, and some doors keep us out. Have you ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors? What doors have opened or closed for you? And how does it feel to stand at a door and knock, when you know someone’s home, and yet no one comes to let you in?

Jesus had been traveling and teaching for nearly a year and a half. Many had heard him speak, but few actually understood what he said and took it to heart. They were interested in him – but not motivated enough to change or become faithful disciples. Even many of those close to him misunderstood what he said.

Over time, some of those that followed Jesus began to feel a little superior to others in the communities around them. They noticed how people came and left. They figured that because they followed steadily; they were the true disciples.

With this in mind, one in the crowd dared to ask, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23) 

This same question has been asked over the years in many ways by people of different faiths. The elite think that they alone know the way to heaven. From the Jews, to the Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, United Methodists, and Mormons; many believe that they have ‘the only way’.

But the truth is no denomination affiliation will get you to heaven. Let me repeat that again, no denomination affiliation will get you to heaven. There is no secret you can know, no task that you can provide that will guarantee success.

Those following Jesus thought they had found the method to get to heaven. The process was to listen to Jesus, follow him along, and hang with the right crowd. They thought that simply being in his presence was enough.

I have actually heard people say, “What does God want from me? I go to church, I pay my tithe, I help others, and I spent time with other Christians. What more is there?”  Like going to church and sitting through the service is going to allow us to understand God by osmosis; with minimal effort.

Or that by giving to the church is somehow going to qualify us for heaven. I have heard people say, “I gave more than others!” They believe that sets them above others. (Maybe they should read the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple.) Luke 18:9-14

Jesus knew what the man meant, when he asked this question. But we don’t know what prompted his question. What was the real question behind the question?

Maybe, what he actually meant when he asked; “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” was; I am concerned, Will I make it? Do I qualify? Or maybe he was just being judgmental, “will all the other riffraff hanging with us, get in Jesus?” Or maybe he was proud, how many others, – like me, will get in? It could be that he was looking to put God on trial. He wanted to accuse God of being too lax or too tough, – or maybe it was just ideal curiosity.

Whatever the motive, Jesus responded not only to him but also to the crowd. He said to them, “Make every effort (or Strive) to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Luke 13:24

When the door closes, many will say, “We ate and drank with you and we stood by as you taught in our streets, you in affect have seen us as we have seen you so how can we be turned away? We were part of the crowd. We were there. Luke 13:25

Then Jesus adds this final blow, “People will come from the East and West and North and South and they will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29

Now wait a minute Jesus, how can this be? Those who are far away will be admitted, while others close are denied. What kind of God are you? We want the door to heaven narrow – when we are part of the group passing through – but it better not keep us out! We have rights! We were here first!

Jesus told the crowds in John 6:26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw the miracles and truly believe in me and what I have done, but because I satisfied you at this particular moment with fish and loaves.”

That is the way that many in this world come to believe in Jesus. 

If they can answer the question, what has God done for me lately, then apparently God exists. But if they are not satisfied with God and what has happened to them, then maybe he is only a figment of their imagination, they reason.

Maybe, they think, I made a mistake; maybe God isn’t associated with this church. Maybe I should go somewhere else where the answers are easier to understand and less is required.

On some emotional level, no matter how wide the doors are, for some they will always feel quite restrictive. The church, or God, is always going to be too vague, too judgmental, too boring or too out of touch (in their minds).

Many stand at the doors of religion and ponder…Welcome to “Which denomination is Right?” Today you will have your pick, Choose: Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3. Behind each is a wonderful prize; no one goes away a loser. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? I pick Methodism, I’m a winner!

But Jesus says, it isn’t that easy. Many may follow but only a few will be chosen to enter the kingdom of God. Some people, that say they are associated with Jesus, may not really know or are known by him. He just might say, “I don’t know you”. (Luke 13:27)

Jesus said, “Make every effort” or “Strive” to enter through the narrow door. Don’t just try and give up. In the Greek, “Strive” means to literally agonize about it.

So, I must ask myself this question, the same one I ask you. How much time have we really put effort into listening and building a real relationship with Jesus? How often have we pushed ourselves to pray, read the Bible, or truly seek the Lord?

How many times have you heard someone say, I don’t want to bother the pastor with that question? Or say, God is too busy to listen to me. Like God has a “Do not disturb” sign on His door. (He Does Not!)

Instead of going to God with our problems, we seek out Oprah, Dear Abby or Dr. Phil. We find a good self-help diet instead of trying God’s plan of abstaining and moderation. Then, we wonder why we don’t feel close to God.

Jesus knew that the crowds were close in proximity, but knew they were far away in their hearts. He knew that they would never be saved at that distance. The distance to God isn’t a matter of space from here to there (out there – to me)…but the distance from here to here (head to heart). 

 “How many people would be saved?” The man asked. Jesus response was… stop looking out there. Stop worrying about them and feeling superior to others and begin by looking in the mirror. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to move closer to Jesus?” The answer doesn’t come from the outside – but from within.

 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)


One final illustration;

From the outside, he didn’t look like much. Anyone who knew him didn’t trust him. He had been in trouble most of his life. Sure, he had had great potential but he had thrown it away.

Now look at him. He was soon to be crucified. One of two criminals on either side of Jesus.  He was a hopeless case, a lost cause. And yet, when he saw himself in light of who Jesus was something clicked inside.  

While the other Criminal badgered Jesus and mocked him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

This man, this thief, defended Jesus saying, “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are being punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. He is innocent.” (Luke 23:40-41)

And at that moment, he was facing death and the way for him was very narrow. But he saw the door and it was Jesus. And it was a gut-wrenching plea. A grasp at the truth, that didn’t come easy for him.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus rewarded him with life eternal. He said, “I tell you the truth, today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Seek That Door. Strive to find that narrow path, the hard way, and hold on with all your might. When the world mocks you and laughs at you, don’t give in. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come to me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.” (Luke 9:23)

That is the narrow door, the only way to heaven. If you wander too far, you might miss it by a mile. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you. When you seek a real relationship with Jesus, you will find the door!

Your assignment is…to take this coming week, the week before Holy Week and pray, seek and search your heart. Don’t trust in what you have heard or what you’ve accomplished. Don’t even trust me, instead, trust solely in Jesus Christ. He is the answer. He is the Door!

May you be successful in your search,

And all God’s People said, Amen.

Build Your Kingdom Here -March 22, 2020

Many of you have probably heard how John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, came to faith. So, I will only give you a quick overview. As a child, he watched his Grandfather and Father preach from the pulpit.

John’s Mother Susanne was also the daughter of a preacher and she was determined that both of her sons would become pastors. From an early age, she drilled it into her two son’s heads, John and Charles, because she believed that it was their destiny.

So, both young men went to college to follow the path to become clergy. Charles became a minister of music and John became a full-fledged preacher. But try as he might, John was not happy or comfortable being a preacher. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he believed or was saved.

Of course, that all changed on May 24, 1738, when John listened to a Moravian preacher giving a sermon on the Epistle to the Romans. He wrote, “As the preacher described the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; And an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

It is a wonderful account, but we cannot get a full understanding of why this happened, unless we hear what transpired just a few years prior to this event. So listen…

It was January 25, 1736, John Wesley had boarded a ship leaving the West Indies it was on its way to London. On Board were some Moravian Christian missionaries. The Moravian Christians are not much different than others; except they have no distinct doctrine, which means members have many beliefs and they baptize infants then they

re-baptize them as adults later.  Their strengths lie in their missionary work and desire for unity and peace.

On that day, the weather turned especially rough. Three storms had already battered the ship, and a 4th was brewing. Wesley scribbled in his journal, “Storm greater: Afraid!” But the Moravians trusted God so completely that they showed no signs of fear. They even held a worship service at the height of the storm.

In the middle of their singing, a gigantic wave rose over the side of the vessel, splitting the main-sail and then covered the ship. There was a loud crash that sounded like an explosion.

Water poured between the decks like water pouring over Niagara Falls “as if the great deep had already swallowed us up,” Wesley wrote. 

The English passengers shrieked as the ship lurched and pitched between towering waves. A terrified Wesley clung on for dear life. But the Moravian missionaries didn’t stop singing and they didn’t seem worried.

Wesley, awestruck by their composure, later went to the leader and asked, “Weren’t you afraid?”  “I thank God, no.” “Weren’t your women and children afraid?”

“No,” replied the man, “Our women and children are not afraid.”  

Wesley was so struck by their deep faith, that he spoke to one of their main leaders, Peter Bohler, when they arrived back in London. Wesley wrote in his journal, “Peter Bohler, whom God prepared for me to meet as soon as I came to London, affirmed a true faith in Christ … which always has two fruits with it: dominion over sin, and constant peace from a sense of forgiveness. I was quite amazed and looked upon it as ‘a new Gospel’.”

Peter Bohler went on to share a passage from Romans 8:16 with John Wesley, that read, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.” And then he added, when the spirit is poured out on us, we have nothing to fear. God looks out for his own. No matter what happens, we can have peace in all things.

Then he invited Wesley to the church at Aldersgate, and that is where Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed. Later he said, “I tried to make my own decisions but learned to trust in God. It is only by the power of the Spirit of God that we find our peace.”

Wesley wrote, “When we trust in God, things start to change, not because we want them to, but because a new spirit of God lives inside of us. That is when the quite strength of the Lord comes upon us and we have the peace and conviction to do whatever He calls us to do.”

That is exactly what we see happening in Acts Chapter 2. The disciples have been hiding since Jesus was persecuted and killed. When, the risen Christ appeared to them and they felt inspired that is, until he ascended into heaven.

Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, he said would come, but they did not understand what that meant. But when the Holy Spirit came, it was like they were set on fire for the Lord. The disciples were no longer afraid, and they emerged from the upper room to share the Gospel.

As Peter began to preach, these words flowed from his memory, they were words from the prophet Joel 2:28 reads, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.”

 “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophecy.” Prophecy here does not mean tell the future; it refers to telling God’s story. To testify, as witnesses, to God’s truth.

Then Peter goes on to tell them about how Jesus lived, died and was resurrected from the dead. ‘This Jesus’, he said, ‘whom we crucified in our hearts, ascended to heaven and is Lord and Christ’.

Those listening were cut to the heart. So, they asked, what can we do to make this right? Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift and the promise of the Holy Spirit.”

And you know what happened? The people came forward and said, in so many words, “Come, O Lord, build your kingdom here, in us.” And 3 thousand more became Christians that day. And God’s Spirit came like a Consuming Fire and the Holy Spirit was poured over them and they were NOT AFRAID.

The poet William Blake wrote a poem about Pentecost, part of the poem goes like this…

“Unless the eye catches fire, God will not be seen. Unless the ear catches fire, God will not be heard. Unless the tongue catches fire, God will not be named. Unless the Heart catches fire, God will not be loved. Unless the mind catches fire, God will not be known.”

I think it was Oswald Smith who said, “Mission is not a burden laid upon the church; it is a gift and a promise to the church that is faithful. The command arises from the gift.

Jesus reigns and all authority has been given to him in earth and heaven. When we understand that, we shall not need to be told to let it be known. Rather, we shall not be able to keep silent.”

The band ‘Rend Collective’ was started by 5 individuals from Ireland. The group started the band as an experiment, they wanted to create music organically. So instead of doing everything by themselves, they prayed for the power of God’s spirit to guide them. Then, they opened their group to any musicians who wanted to join them.

They call their music ‘Home-made music for Hand-made people’.  It is kind of like the church, we combine our gifts to give the best back to God. One of the earliest hymns by a French Archbishop that guided them goes like this;

“Come, Holy Spirit, our souls inspire come and enlighten us with your celestial fire.”

In their song they wrote these words,

‘Build Your kingdom here, let the darkness fear

Show Your mighty hand, heal our streets and land

Set Your church on fire, win this nation back

Change the atmosphere, build Your kingdom here

We pray

Come set Your rule and reign, in our hearts again

Come set our hearts ablaze with hope, like wild-fire in our very souls.

Holy Spirit come invade us now,

We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause (Because)

We are your church – and we need your power, in us.

We are your church – and we pray, Revive.

So set your church on Fire. Build your kingdom here…’

I believe, when we open ourselves to God that we can truly be ignited by the Holy Spirit, our hearts can be warmed and our lives set on fire. You see, lukewarm just won’t do. Fear cannot prevail. More than ever, God needs vibrant, alive, passionate and transformed people to reach the world today.

I began with John Wesley, I want to end with one of his prayers, his covenant prayer, it goes like this…

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, – rank me with whom you will;

Put me to doing, – put me to suffering;

Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

Exalted for you, or brought low for you;

Let me be full, – let me be empty,

Let me have all things, – let me have nothing:

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.


Over the next week, I want your prayer to be, “Lord, pour out your Holy Spirit on me and make me be an instrument of your peace – lead me to serve you – and be a witness to others of your goodness and to share your story”. So, Fear not! And let the passion of the Lord, fill you to overflowing.

Come Holy Spirit… Amen.

Lent a Season of Reflection – March 15, 2020

Good morning!  Please pray with me.

Lord, please take what is said this morning that is good and pleasing to you and make that stick in our minds and let the rest gently go by the wayside.  Amen

We are currently in the first couple of weeks of Lent for this year.  Easter stands 4 weeks in front of us today.  This morning we are going to start with a few facts about Lent. 

I am sure I have shared before that I did not grow up going to church, so there are church traditions that I have learned and relearned as an adult.  I am guessing I am not the only one here with a faith background that didn’t start in the cradle, I see the other 6 of you out there like me😊

So we are going to get going with a little Q&A about Lent.  Then we are going to talk a bit about the coronavirus and how it will impact our season of Lent. And we will end with some quiet reflection time prepared by Pastor Bill.

Let’s get going!

What does the Lent mean?

Lent is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’, Lent is observed in the spring when the days begin to get longer.

What is Lent?

Lent is a season of reflection and preparation.

How long is Lent?

Lent is counted differently in eastern churches versus western churches.  Here in the western world, we count Lent as 40 days, excluding Sundays, and it starts on the 7th Wednesday before Easter, Ash Wednesday.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast. Many churches, including ours, hold a special service which worshippers are marked with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sin.  The ashes are made by burning the palm fronds from the previous Palm Sunday.

What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.   By using these ashes we are reminded that defeat and crucifixion are followed by triumph. 

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week which ends with Easter. 

So what does it mean to be in a season of reflection and preparation? 

Reflection or Self-assessment is an important part of our faith life as we grow and mature.  We often hear of people observing Lent by giving up things and others observe Lent by intentionally doing other things. 

In this particular season of Lent we are faced with a situation none of us have ever experienced.  We are all being impacted by a new virus named COVID 19. 

This week we have all held conversations with people talking about how COVID19 is changing how we will do life for the immediate future. 

We watched a lot of people, and we were those people, who had been making preparations for things that either won’t happen or won’t happen in a timeline we can predict.  We all have stories from this week.

Here are some of the stories I witnessed this week…

Last minute adjustment to travel plans for our 20th anniversary trip

Young men in our community who last Saturday won sectional basketball games (whether it was their first in 44 years, or their 2nd in a row) who worked so hard this week to be ready for regional basketball games that have been postponed.

Colin and several other students who spent the last several weeks, and many nights this week working until past 8 p.m. to be ready to perform the school play next Wednesday.  Also postponed.

Our boys made sure they brought home everything they might possibly need from school as they face at least 3 weeks of not going back to school, evidenced by the busting open backpack Gavin carried in.

Thinking about the families we have contact with-especially from the pantry program- that will struggle in such real ways with kids being home for an extended time….childcare, food, work, etc. so many challenges.

These are just a few parts of our story from this week, we all will have our story from this season. 

We all have things that have made our heads swim this week.  And, I am guessing, our house isn’t the only one that experienced some anxious feelings or maybe even some fear.  “Fear not” is only in the Bible 365 times, so God must know how prone we are to this condition.

In times of uncertainty, I am one to be comforted by facts-I am admittedly a person who wants to look at the facts of a situation and not always the feelings associated with it (this is not always a good thing)….maybe that is why I enjoyed researching facts about Lent yesterday afternoon. I know that is not what helps everyone.  I think we would be remiss this week not to talk a bit about the anxiousness this week has spurred.    

A dear friend of mine named Christina Smith, shared a message this week about how to face this pandemic (she is a psychologist and just a wonderful human and lover of Jesus).  

Christina says…

In this pandemic state, we are talking a great deal about how to remain healthy and how to prepare for potential quarantines.

There is a lot of information being disseminated regarding the virus. This information can be useful in learning how to best respond.

It is times like these when it is imperative to be aware of our own emotional state.

Specifically, I want to address the issue of anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:
– restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
– being easily fatigued
– difficulty concentrated or one’s mind going blank
– racing thoughts
– physical symptoms such as trembling, racing pulse, shortness of breath
– irritability
– muscle tension
– sleep disturbance

Like this virus, some of us are more susceptible to anxiety than others.

It is important to understand your own susceptibility (and those in your direct care) in these times.

Anxiety needs fuel to thrive. Sometimes we can eliminate the fuel source and sometimes we cannot eliminate the fuel source.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety during this pandemic, please consider if your anxiety is receiving energy from things that can be eliminated or reduced.

Also, remember what your neighbor can tolerate with little increase in anxiety may differ from what you can tolerate.

To start, here are some questions to ask yourself and then consider if they can be reduced or eliminated.

Is my caffeine or sugar intake making me feel jittery?
Does scrolling on social media increase my racing thoughts?
Is the amount of news I am reading/watching increasing my sense of panic?
Are my conversations primarily about fears associated with the virus/fears of the potential impact?
Am I using numbing behaviors to escape?
Is my self-talk a spiral of complaint/comparison/what if’s?

In your attempt to care well for your emotional state, it is beneficial to consider something you desire instead of anxiety. For me, I desire peace. So we will use peace as an example. I am guilty of full-force fueling anxiety at certain times in my life. I have had moments of this throughout the past week and am recognizing the need to turn the tide.

What is best for me is when I consider how to fuel the emotion I actually want – PEACE. I have practices that I do on a regular basis that fuel peace in my life. It is crucial that I employ those practices now if peace is what I desire to fuel. Here are some things that bring me peace –

Spending time reading scripture
Taking walks
Listening to music
Listening to books
Slowly repeating “I receive peace”
Cuddling and watching fun shows with my family
Gratitude lists
Having a conversation with the cashier
Complimenting a friend or a stranger
A hot shower
Taking my time while cooking a meal
Turning off my notifications and ringers
Sitting in silence
Breathing deeply

Information is good.

Learning what we are to do and taking appropriate steps is wise.

But please care for your emotional self well during this time. It is an incredibly important part of who you are. Please continue doing the things that keep you physically healthy but emotionally healthy as well. 

I am thankful for a friend who shares such practical advice.  I also have teased her that she probably has lost some income from potential counseling sessions this week by sharing.  I know Common Way Church also has shared her message this week and probably others.

Even though so many things feel so different right now, we are still in the season of Lent.

This remains a season of reflection and preparation. 

That hasn’t changed and Easter is still coming! 

In fact, we are all likely presented with more time that could be spent in reflection and preparation….but we will have to be intentional about it.  With more hours at home, we will have to guard ourselves and our families against wasting this opportunity. 

There will be ways this season of Lent will certainly feel like a time in the wilderness to us.  We get the opportunity to choose if we will be mindful of our time and draw near to the Lord in ways we haven’t before or haven’t in a while or if we allow other things to occupy our time in ways that steal our peace, joy, and presence with the Lord.  My hope is we all choose the earlier and greet Easter with an even greater sense of anticipation. 

Pastor Bill prepared a few slides for today to help us reflect during this time.  We will quietly reflect for the next few moments.  He also provided us a page of scriptures that we can use this week to help guide our prayer time. 

Closing Prayer:

God, when all of life feels turned upside down, we easily recognize our deep need for you.

When we are afraid, remind us how much you love us.

When we are confused, remind us that you are all-knowing and care deeply.

When we feel alone, draw us to community.

When we are anxious, grant us peace.

Draw us near to you the one who supplies all our needs.

In Jesus name, Amen

Cut It Off – March 8, 2020

Aron Lee Ralston left his job as a mechanical engineer with Intel in Phoenix, Arizona in 2002 and moved to Aspen, Colorado in order to pursue a life in the great outdoors. Ralston loved to hike, repel down inclines, spelunk and mountain climb.

On April 26, 2003, Ralston was hiking alone through Blue John Canyon in Utah at Canyon-Lands National Park. While he was descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder above him became dislodged. The rock came crashing down, smashing his left hand and then crushed his right hand against the canyon wall pining him. Unfortunately, Ralston had not informed anyone of his hiking plans, so no one would know he was missing or would come in search of him.

For 3 days, Ralston tried to lift the boulder or break parts of the rock to free his arm but his efforts were futile. His phone was useless (no reception) and he only had a little food and water. On the 4th day, he began trying to amputate his arm, so he could get free. But his initial attempts failed. 

On the 5th day, he gave up, left goodbye messages on his phone and then carved his name, birth date and what he thought would be the day he died on the stone wall. He did not expect to survive the night.

In a dream, he imagined a way to get free. When he woke, miraculously, he devised a way to amputate his arm and then he was able to repel down a sheer wall and walk out of the canyon. He walked for 4 hours before he was rescued.

Ralston’s story was told in his autobiography called “Between and Rock and a Hard Place”. But you may have heard of his story in the movie treatment called ‘127 Hours’. James Franco played Ralston in the movie.

I don’t know about you but images ‘like this’ come to my mind when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:7-9. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin (stumble)! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.

“It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet’ and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”         

Now I know some folks who say, ‘everything in the Bible must be taken literally’. Jesus, they say, like Horton from Dr. Seuss, always said what he meant and meant what he said. And if that is the case, things could get really ugly, really fast. Except, you will notice, none of the literalists are walking around with major handicaps either!

In fact, we know it was common practice for Jewish teachers to use metaphors, irony, sarcasm and hyperbole to get their message across. That means they would often exaggerate statements or claims to make a point. It means that an example may not always be taken literally but should still be taken seriously.

For example; Jesus said that, ‘before pointing out a sliver in another’s eye, take out the plank in your own’. He also said, ‘it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” Have you ever meant anyone who really tried to get a camel through the eye of a needle?

One Rabbinic saying, of their day was, “The pain of humiliation is more bitter than death. Therefore, one should fling himself into a fiery furnace rather than humiliate someone in public.”

Statements like this, by Jesus, were so graphic that they not only got the listeners attention, but they also left them feeling shocked. In truth, they were intentionally said this way just so they would be remembered.

I doubt if there isn’t a person alive who reads or hears these words who was not troubled by them. It is the same way you know your mom or dad are serious when they say, “I’m going to skin you alive!” Or that, they are going to ‘ground you for the rest of your life’.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Church at Corinth, he said in chapter 6:19, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”

If our bodies are really temples of the Holy Spirit, it wouldn’t behoove us to intentionally do damage to them. Instead, we are called to use our bodies to do all the good we can.

When Jesus tells his disciples and us to ‘cut off’ an offending body part that would mislead us’; he is saying, in actuality, to be on guard and to take action against anything in our lives that would case us or others to stumble and sin. The surgery he is recommending is ‘spiritual’, not physical.

Let’s not forget what Paul writes to the Hebrews in Chapter 4 verse 12, “That the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Again, it is spiritual in nature.

Who really blames their eyes or hands for committing a sin? We know it is not the body that offends but the person, who from the heart and mind, misuses it!

Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.” 

Those Muslims who practice Islam, believe in cutting off the hand of a thief. Yet, the loss of one hand doesn’t necessarily stop the person from stealing. Sin begins in us, it is driven by our selfish desires and unchecked passions. So, I do not believe Jesus ever meant for us to go around maiming ourselves or others.

Yet, what he said is serious and should not be easily dismissed. There are those who say, I have no control over my life, once a sinner, always a sinner. I am saved by grace alone. Works will not save me. And that God loves me in spite of my sin. Then they go on sinning because they believe they are already forgiven.

Paul addressed that in Romans 6:15, he writes “What then, does this mean? Should we go on sinning because we are not under Law but under grace? By no means!” (ISV). His point then is, that we are to do whatever we can to live as Christ.

In this passage, Paul is directing us to take every action to avoid temptation and sin. And to take every action to avoid causing another to sin, stumble or fall. He is echoing Jesus’ message, you see…

The hand represents what we do, the foot represents were we chose to go or who we chose to follow, and the eye represents what we choose to look at. Pay attention to what gets your attention and deal drastically and quickly with the things that will misguide or mislead you. Yet, we cannot do this apart from God. We need the wisdom of the Father, the example of the Son and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 23:26 reads, “My child, give me your heart, and let your eyes delight in my ways.”

Colossians 3:5-6 tells us to, “put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature” that will cause us to sin or stumble. Don’t flirt with it, don’t coddle it, don’t covet it or set it aside until later. Instead, hate it, crush it, search it out and destroy the things that will tempt you or cause you to sin.

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us the things that may tempt us, may feel unique to us, but they are common to all mankind. Some of these are; pride, materialism, greed, hate, envy, lying, lust, laziness and unforgiveness. When we are tempted, we are told to turn and flee. Not walk away casually but run for your life!

There is no doubt that sin is appealing, the devil created it that way but it holds little sway against all of eternity. All worthless things are cast into the fire and burned; old branches and destructive lives. Notice, Jesus does not mince words here.

This is a true story. It takes place back when I worked in surgery, during the AIDS epidemic. Little was known about AIDS at first, and we wore whole body suits to do surgery. But once they determined it was in the blood, some crazy things happened.

A few doctors, so afraid of contracting AIDS, actually amputated fingers, and one doctor, his hand after being cut with a knife. They decided losing one part was worth it to live on.

My point here is, this was only about saving their current life, not even their eternal life, – which I think is far more important.

It is better for you to enter life with one hand or one eye than have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. Clearly for Jesus, hell is a real place and he is doing his best to warn and direct us away from it. He came and gave his life to overcome sin and eternal death but we still have some choices to make it is part of our free will.

I don’t know about you, but that reality is enough to make me change my ways.

What would be the purpose of all of Jesus’ teachings, if he fixed everything and we would no longer be held to account? Clearly, we have something to learn.

“Woe to you those”, Isaiah says, “who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

‘Warning, Warning Danger, Danger,’ pay close attention, listen, turn and seek God. Avoid the time of judgment and don’t be cut off. Repent, turn and live as God has taught you.

Life is hard enough. So, seek Jesus and find abundant life. Find the peace that only he can bring. It really is worth it!

Your assignment is to read Galatians 5:16-26. It lists the things to avoid, the acts of the sinful nature. And then he compares them to the goodness of the fruit of the Spirit. One list brings suffering and death and the other brings life. Choose wisely.

Again, in Galatians 5:16-26 Paul writes, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” We all have an opportunity to choose life and follow Jesus with all of our heart, soul and being. Then, we should live well and share our journey and our stories with another.

This is the call of every Christian; to live better tomorrow, than we lived today.

Pass it on… Amen.

The Flip of a Coin – March 1, 2020

A little boy wanted $100 very badly to buy a bike, so he prayed to God for a whole week but nothing happened. Finally, he decided to write Him a letter instead. When the Post Office received the letter addressed to God, they forwarded it to the White House. The President was both impressed and amused, so he instructed his aide to send the boy $20, thinking that would be a lot of money to the child.

The boy was, indeed, delighted by the money, so he sat down and wrote a thank you note: “Dear God, thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed for some reason you had to send it through Washington and just like my dad always says, they kept most of it.”

Now, I have yet to meet anyone who really looks forward to April 15th, Tax Day. And even when people pay their taxes as they should, they often complain about how the government uses their money. I believe it has been that way since the first taxes were levied. 

It was certainly true in Jesus’ day – but some things made it even more unappealing. First, let me set the scene…

It was the last week of Jesus’ life and He had just finished telling a series of three parables in the Temple. He was in the same Temple he had cleansed a couple days earlier. At that time, he had chased out the moneychangers and those selling sacrificial animals at elevated prices. 

Matthew 21:45 reads, “When the chief priests and Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about (bad mouthing) them. They wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, because they believed that Jesus was a prophet of God.”

Because they could not find grounds to arrest him, they re-grouped to come up with a new plan to trap Jesus with his own words. After some discussion with the Herodians, they came up with a clever idea. One they were sure would ensnare Jesus.   

Our first question should be who are the Herodians and why are the Pharisees working with them? The Herodians were primarily a Jewish political party; that supported Herod the Great and the Roman rule of life.

Now normally the Pharisees and the Herodians would not get along at all. 

The Pharisees were religious authorities who deeply resented the Roman tax on religious and political grounds. But these 2 groups had one thing in common, a common enemy, Jesus of Nazareth.

The Pharisees viewed Jesus as a competitor for religious leadership of the people.  The Herodians viewed Jesus’ growing popularity as a political threat to their Roman masters. So, on this one occasion, they worked together.

Approaching Jesus, they began by using flattery. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.” (Matt. 22:16)

“Tell us then, In your opinion, is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Matt. 22:17)

Did you catch that? It almost sounds like a congressional hearing. The question was carefully orchestrated, not so much as to get answers but to nail the person on the stand. A loaded question is asked, to force a quick response that will condemn the person.

I can almost hear the speaker saying, “Just answer the question: yes or no?”  But Jesus saw through their evil intent and said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” (Matt. 22:18)

The Pharisees and the Herodians had selected their question and framed it carefully. The poll or head tax had been imposed by Rome at the time of its conquest. Each year, every person had to pay the equivalent of a laborer’s daily wage for the privilege of being a subject of the Roman Empire and to support the cost of Rome’s occupation.

To add insult to injury, the tax had to be paid with a Roman coin, the denarius, which had the image of the emperor stamped on one side and an inscription on the other that read: “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, most high priest.”

The tax was terribly unpopular and not just for the obvious reason. For many religious people, simply possessing and using the coin was blasphemy against God’s law, particularly the commandment against graven images and idolatry.

For others, the tax was a constant reminder that they were occupied and subject to Rome. So, if Jesus stated that paying taxes to the emperor was lawful, many of his supporters would desert him.

On the other hand, the Herodians and Romans supported the tax. So, if Jesus declared it was not lawful, the authorities would arrest him as a traitor and a political rebel.

There is no safe response. So, just flip a coin, let the chips fall where they will. Either way, they had Jesus in a bind. His opponents were sure that whatever way he answered, this would be the end of Jesus’ reign. So, they were thinking, “Just answer the question, Jesus, yes or no.”

Knowing their intent, Jesus could have just walked away but his followers would have been confused. Instead, he asked a question that took his accusers by surprise, “Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” (Matt. 22:19)

Now, it is not as though Jesus didn’t know what the coin looked like. He had probably seen it many, many times. But notice, Jesus does not carry one of these coins. In fact, as far as we know, he never carried money at all; that was Judas’ job.

And lo and behold, a coin appears out of the pocket of one of his accusers. Let’s not forget, this discussion takes place in the Temple courtyard. Religious zealots wouldn’t even touch the coins, having one in the Temple was highly blasphemes.

Jesus barely looks at it and holds it up for the others to see. Then he asked them, “Whose face is on this coin?” (Matt. 22:20) “Caesar’s”, they replied. Then Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

At first, it seems as if Jesus had agreed with those who were in cahoots with Rome, but…in his next breath he adds what no truly religious person could ever object to, “And Give back to God ‘the things that are God’s’.” (Matt. 22:21)

That addition changes everything. It is clear that Jesus was in control the entire time. No simple yes and no question could bind and condemn him. I would have loved to have been there to see the jaws drop.

Caesar has power and control over a coin and a nation. But God’s reign has no end. Everything belongs to Him. Jesus’ answer reduced the meaning of the coin to something rather petty. A coin pales in comparison to the things of God.

Caesar’s control was limited and, in most cases, forced. God, on the other hand, gives freedom, love, mercy and grace. So, which do you honor, respect and worship more?  Money with a face of a king or the God of the universe?

While money is made in the image of man, we are made or minted in God’s image and Christians have the Jesus seal of approval placed on them. (Ephesians 1:13-14) We are then called to give back to God, all that is God’s; which includes our lives and a portion of our gifts.

Jesus’ answer also points to another dynamic, as Christians we have ‘dual citizenship’. We are citizens of this great nation but also citizens of the Kingdom of God.

On several occasions, the Apostle Paul claimed his Roman citizenship. Yet in Philippians 3:20 he proclaims, “But our real citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

As Christians, we should give our best to both worlds. We pay taxes because we want safe roads, clean water, schools, police, a fire department and trash pick-up. Yet our responsibility goes beyond paying taxes. We should be involved in providing qualified leaders for our government and we should vote and pray for those leaders.

We should speak out on moral issues and speak up against policies that would hurt others or destroy our world. We should work to strengthen families and provide shelter for the poor and the lost.

Like God, we should give out of the abundant joy of our hearts. (2 Corinthians 9:7) And giving back to God should be our first priority. We should give God our first and best gifts not give him our leftovers.

Because in the end, the kingdom of God will do far more for this world than any human institution. As Jesus proved, making the right choices is far more complicated than simply flipping a coin. He burst that bubble. But he also pointed out where our loyalties should be placed. We should always keep God and his kingdom, first.

Your assignment is…to do a financial assessment this week. Look over your check register or bank statement. Where do you spend your money? It gives real insight into what we think is important. Does how you use money, represent who you are as a Christian?

If so, great. If not, maybe you need to think over your priorities. Take it from Jesus, finances take a little more thought than a simple yes or no. Sadly, some folks follow their desires more than their heart. While money is only a tool, we are called to use it well.