Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2020

“Dance before the Lord” – May 24, 2020

When Australian composer Joseph Haydn was asked how it was that his church music was always so cheerful’, he made this most appropriate and insightful reply, “I cannot, make it otherwise,” he said, “I write according to the thoughts I feel. When I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it is my honor, that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”

Now, the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians; to be joyful always. In fact, when we worship God, we are to do it with shouts of great joy and leaping, that is what worship means.

I don’t know about you, but some days I just don’t feel that joyful. When it feels like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, I don’t always have a smile to share in fact, it’s all I can do not to cringe.

One fellow that must have known how I feel, is the crippled man in Acts Chapter 3. Our Bible says he was over 40 and had been disabled since birth. He was unable to run, walk or even stand up. For over 40 years, he had watched the world pass him by. As a child, he watched out the window as other kids ran and played. No one wanted to include him, because they believed his condition was a curse from God. The day in question, started as just an ordinary one like all the others.

His brothers had gotten him out of bed and helped him dress. On their way to work or to worship, they carried him to his usual spot at the Temple gate. It would have been nice, if they would have just taken him into church and placed him on a pew, only he wasn’t welcome inside. Can you imagine that? The idea turns my stomach.

I would never want to be a part of any church that turns people away. Every one of us, is a sinner in need of a savior. This sanctuary is meant to be a haven for the lost, the sick and the outcast. Jesus himself said in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, – but sinners.”

But that isn’t to say that some won’t choose to leave. For some, the word of God is too much of a burden or their hearts are just too hard for them to hear and believe the truth. If you stay, you must allow God to transform your heart, your mind and your life. The Bible tells us to turn away from sin, not continue in it. Some will hear that message, refuse and eventually leave on their own. That is because that cannot or will not admit they are sinners.

One of the best sermons I ever heard on this topic was from a Baptist Minister named, Rev. McClinton Hall. His sermon was called, “The Danger of being at church and not in church.” He said, “Have you ever noticed how many people come to church, but they are never really in church? They sit in the pews but they never really worship? They are dressed to kill but when they leave, they are unchanged.”

He said, “There is nothing sadder than being at or near church but never allowing the church to be in you, is there? Never allowing God in for fear that you might have to change.”

 “How do you ever expect to have the Joy of Christ in you, if you never open the door to him? How do you expect to have peace, grace and mercy if you’re never open to receive it?” It is one thing, to walk out of church on your own but some have never been invited in. Some don’t even know, what they are missing.

This lame man had done nothing wrong, but he was an outcast. He would have love to go into the Temple, but he was kept at the doorstep. Each day, probably twice a day at morning and afternoon, he was placed by the Temple gate to beg.

Have you ever had to beg for something? Have you ever had a need so important you had to humble yourself to ask for it? We are proud people, just asking for help not even begging is painful for many of us. But there are times we must ask. It is the right thing to do.

Every day, this man sat on a blanket and hold out his ceramic bowl and cried to those passing by, “A shekel, half-shekel or mite for a poor old man, anyone?” And most days he gets a little. Most days people would curse or spit on him. Even children would sometimes kick him, as the passed by.

But he was used to this, he had been this way for over 40 years. And after all those years, everyone knew there is no hope. His parents were gone, and he had been a burden on his family his whole life. And now, 3/4th of life was over and of course, in his day, when you were handicapped, life was shorter.

And so, here he sat, an insignificant man in the eyes of the world. Ours is a world that values physical beauty and strength. They were part of the Roman Empire and they loved the Gladiators and the Olympics.

This man is a constant reminder of all the things the people want to ignore or forget about the hardships of life. And get this, he sat, in all his ugliness, in front of the beautiful gate to the temple. Now there is a contrast!

Jewish historians tell us that this is the East gate known as the Nicanor gate. Josephus writes that this gate was so large; it was 75 feet tall and 60 feet wide and took 20 men to open and close it. It was made of Corinthian bronze and was overlaid with gold and silver.

It was everyone’s favorite entrance, when they arrived at the Temple, and it blazed with divine brilliance in the sun. Here sits our beggar. Luke never even tells us his name, and he sits along with many others, who are trying to make a living, by relying on the charity of others.

Along comes Peter and John, headed to the 3 o’clock prayer service. At once, the man does what he does best, he calls out, “A shekel, half-shekel or mite for a poor old man?” And he tries to do it before the other beggars. Luke records ‘in the book of Acts’ that Peter, as did John, looked right at him. (Acts 3:4)

Let me ask you, when you see a beggar, where do your eyes go? I think most of us look away or if they are standing, we look down. But we seldom look them in the eye. Because if you look right at them, they know they have your attention and they are going to want something, right?

There is a great song by Casting Crowns called, “Does anyone see her?” It is about a woman who is lost, hurting, alone and scared yet she is like a ghost. No one wants to acknowledge her.

Knowing this, both Peter and John stare at this man. The phrase looked straight at him literally means they had a piercing glare, as if, they were looking into his soul. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” It is a command, but I am sure it was said with kindness. So, the man did. He gave them his full attention expecting to get something in return. (Acts 3:4)

With all the other beggars there, why this one? What did Peter see? Maybe he remembered Jesus on his knees bent down washing his feet like a servant or a beggar. Maybe he could tell that this man had not become bitter or angry over time, but instead, kept a hopeful attitude. Scripture never tells us and so, it leaves it up to our imagination. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold, I do not have, but what I have, I give you.” (Acts 3:6)

No money, how disappointing, the beggar must have thought. Ok, then maybe they will give me some food or water. Beggars can’t be choosers, right? Ha-ha. But wait a minute, why is it that Peter and John have no money? The world revolves around money, even in their day. Is it possible, that they were lying? Surely, they had something for the church?

More than likely, they had no money because they already choose to give it all away, to others in need. When Jesus sent the disciples out, he said, “Do not take a purse, bag or scandals.” (Luke 10:4)

This poor man had to notice that the disciples were empty handed. What then, pray tell, could they be giving him? He must have been curious. No one promises something and then gives nothing. Even in his wildest dreams, this beggar had no idea what was about to transpire.

When you are in a deep pit of despair or hopelessness, rescue seems impossible. And it is easy to believe, when the weight of sin seems to be crushing you, that no one could ever possibly forgive you.

This man couldn’t have imagined healing, not after all these years. He had grown to accept his condition.

Let me ask you, ‘Do you know how he feels?’ So, you must wonder what he thought when Peter said, “In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

He must have thought, “Hold on, hold on, what? Is this a joke? Am I on first century ‘Candid Camera’? Are you messing with me?” There is no indication he stood up, he just sat there probably in shock.

So, Peter reached down and helped the man up and scripture says instantly the man’s feet and ankles become strong. And as soon as the invalid sensed this, he didn’t just slowly stand up, instead, he jumped to his feet. 

Not only did he leap with joy, he also began praising God. He knew Where, this blessing had come from. This wasn’t the work of men, but a healing from God alone In the Name of Jesus.

Now, what to do? Go home? Run off? No, he followed Peter and John into the Temple to praise God. This was a miracle, pure and simple so now, it was time to praise the Lord. Do you suppose he went in and knelt, sat down, or stayed quiet?

My guess is that he was shouting, laughing, singing, dancing, jumping and raising his hands in jubilation. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever said to yourself, ‘There’s nothing that is going to contain this overflowing, endless joy in my heart, soul and mind! It just has to gush out.”

That is the way it should feel the first time you understand that Jesus has forgiven your sins and washed you ‘white as snow’. Or healed you from an illness.

It is right and a good thing always to give praises to the Lord. If you have never felt that, you may have to ask yourself, have I really given myself to the Lord. Do I really know him?

But the truth is, even the most committed Christian is going to come down off that high. Even this healed man will come back to reality. So how do you keep that wonderful joy that keeps you dancing like a child with wild abandon?

The truth is, we cannot do it on our own.  We must keep going back to the source of our mercy, grace, forgiveness and peace. We must keep Jesus close. We must let the Spirit transform us and give us new eyes, a new heart and a clearer understanding.

To rejoice in the Lord – or to learn to ‘leap for joy’ is more than positive thinking. That kind of joy cannot be bought with silver or gold. It must come from someplace deeper from a heart of love, faith, mercy and grace. 

In the movie ‘Patch Adams’, Robin Williams plays Patch. He is a doctor looking at a world of pain and he finds that he must reach deep down inside to find joy and laughter that transforms. As he walks into a children’s ward, he becomes a clown and makes the kids laugh hysterically. It is the first time they have laughed in a long time.

It would have been so easy to walk away from those kids. But if he had, nothing would have changed. Do you get the feeling, some things should change?

Sometimes, when I feel the weight of the world, I open my Bible to Luke 6:20-23, and read;

Looking at his disciples, he (Jesus) said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”

There are times we must stop and remind ourselves; things may not be exactly how we perceive them. And keep in mind that all things are possible with God.

If we can do that…than some of that joy can well up in our lives again, because we know ever good and perfect gift comes from God who has our back. (James 1:17)

Now, before we end, I want to leave you with just one thing…some of the greatest lessons come to us as children. Get ready to follow along when you know what I am singing, ok?

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. (Where?) down in my heart, (Where?) down in my heart.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. (Where?) down in my heart to stay!

Great Job!!! Keep that song close and may God Bless You as you dance and sing it in the days ahead.

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

“Living Water” – May 17, 2020

In the 1947 Disney cartoon ‘Crazy from the Heat’, Donald Duck and Goofy are traveling on a hot desert road when their car breaks down and runs out of gas. Having no way to get help, they begin walking down a desert path into the wilderness. Because Goofy forgot his glasses, he keeps looking at his map with a magnifying glass. But the glare from the sun soon catches the map on fire, and they are hopelessly lost. To top it off, they soon run out of water.

That is when Goofy and Donald decide to split up so they can look for water. After a while Goofy starts seeing things. Before him is a soda fountain and he ordered a milk shake but before he can drink it, it disappears. Meanwhile, Donald is dying of thirst, until he sees a huge iceberg, dripping in the sun. As he runs up to grab it, it also vanishes. It was just a hallucination.

I’ve always loved shows were people got lost in the desert and see an oasis in the distance. Movies like Abbott and Costello in ‘The Foreign Legion’ or Laurel and Hardy in ‘Beau Hunks’. Just as they run and dive into a beautiful pool of water, it disappears because it is just an illusion.

Have you ever been really hot and really thirsty? I have, but I have never seen strange things because of it. Water is life. It is easy for us to walk into the kitchen and fill a glass of cool, clear water. We can even add a few ice cubes to really refresh us on a hot day. But that was not the case in Jesus’ day.

In the small towns in Palestine, water was scarce and highly valued. In the heat of the summer, many of the rivers would dry up or turn muddy. They relied on rain to fill cisterns and wells. Cisterns were large pools made from rock that they covered to store water. In the Temple in Jerusalem, there were 37 cisterns, one large enough to hold two million gallons of water.

Farmers relied on dew in the morning to water their crops. And towns were generally located within a few miles of a well. Because water was so scarce, only a small amount was used for washing clothes or for bathing. But every home that invited guests in had to have a washbasin to clean the feet of visitors because good hospitality was important.

Travelers generally carried drinking water in goatskins. But traveling very far meant, knowing where to stop to get water. As Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Nazareth in Galilee, it was customary to avoid Samaria.

Samaritans and Jews disagreed on the location of the Temple of God, as well as who could intermarry with whom. Being low on food and water, Jesus and his disciples headed straight into Samaria near a town called Sychar. Everyone knew this place because it contained Jacob’s well. (John 4:4-5)

Jacob’s well is in a perfect spot to collect rainwater and spring water. It is located near two mountains and so the water runs downhill into a slope that feeds the well. Jesus and his disciples were hot and tired, and so they headed straight for it. They arrived just before noon. (John 4:6)

Jesus sat down to rest, but the disciples felt like they should continue on to get food from a nearby town. Not long after they left, a Samaritan woman showed up to draw water from the well. She was from Sychar, which was located about a mile north-west of Jacob’s well.

Clearly, this was not the best time of the day to be walking to the well to get water. Most women did it very early in the morning or later at night when it was cool. Also, they usually traveled in pairs or groups, but this woman was alone. As she approached the well, she saw a man sitting close by. In their day, she was forbidden to talk to or be near a man by herself. It would have been best to turn back and wait until he left. 

She did not recognize him, and she noticed that he was a Jew by his clothing. Under those conditions, he would most likely, not even speak to her. So, she decided to get water from the well. I think this gives us a little insight into her personality. She was clearly not timid or afraid.

As she approached the well, Jesus spoke, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7)

She was shocked by his request. She could have left but good hospitality dictated that she respond. Yet, there was also another issue present. She said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you even ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) A side-note in scripture mentions that Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Just to make it clear, not only was Jesus asking for a drink, but he would have had to drink it, from the cup or jar she provided.

A quick point of information, in their day eating pork was forbidden because it was considered unclean. An old Jewish saying was, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of a swine.” In other words, any Jew who eats or drinks with a Samaritan is ‘contaminating himself’.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Living water would have meant fresh, flowing, clear water not still water from a deep well. So, she responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our Father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and flocks and herds?” (John 4:11-12)

Sounds a little like sarcasm to me. She was definitely not meek or reserved. She had hutzpah!

She continued, “Sir, my words (if you’re so great) give me this water, so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15) She is getting a bit spicy hot, but Jesus is about to cool her off.

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16) You see, if he was going to continue to talk to her, this was the respectful thing to do. But it also would change how she was speaking to him.    Lowering her head, she said, “I have no husband.” (John 4:17)

Jesus replied, in my words, “I know. The fact is, you have had 5 husbands, and the man you are now living with is not your husband. But thank you for being honest with me.” (John 4:17-18)

This might explain why she is coming at noon, the hottest part of the day, for water. Even hearing someone Today say they have had five husbands, makes us wonder about them. But in all honesty, it may have had little to do with her. If she was unable to have children, her husbands may have just left her. Also, men tended to die young back then. Clearly Jesus did not judge her, and neither should we.

Sizing him up she replied, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20) Jesus had turned the tables on her and now she was also attempting to shift the subject.

Talking religion in general is always easier than talking about matters of the heart. But for her, her faith was a deep part of her.

Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has NOW come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for ‘they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24)

Then the woman (we still do not know her name) said, “I know that ‘Messiah’ is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” (John 4:25)

Notice, she is actively looking and waiting on the Messiah, the Christ, the coming Savior. Also, she believes he will not care about the dividing lines between Jews and Samarians. When the Messiah comes, she believes, he will explain everything to all of us. Her faith runs deep, like a well.

Then Jesus declared, “I, who speak to you, am he.” Or another simpler way to say it is, “I am the Messiah”. (John 4:26)

Now, there is a little bridge here. The conversation continues but we are not privy to it. John 4:27 begins like this, “Then the disciples returned and were surprised to find Jesus talking to a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking to her?”

It makes me wonder, what did he say to her? And, when did she realize that he really was the Messiah? All we know is, that at some point, she turned and ran off to her village and left her water jar behind.

Jesus had promised her living water. This water was not meant to stop her physical thirst but to quench her spiritual thirst for the truth. Yet it is important to notice what happened here. She left the water jar, which is a very valuable life-giving item, because, what Jesus said fed a deeper thirst and need in her.

Have you ever been so excited or consumed by something you forgot to eat or drink? This is important because of what happens next.

After the woman at the well left, the disciples kept trying to get Jesus to eat something. But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then they responded, “Could someone have brought him food?” (John 4:33)

His spiritual hunger and thirst were satisfied. Clearly, they missed it but the woman who had just left did not. She had an insight into Jesus that they would not grasp for some time. One other thing to point out, this is the longest conversation recorded in scripture where Jesus talked alone with someone, other than the disciples.

 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Then he goes on to explain that the (Spiritual) fields are ripe for harvest. (John 4:34-38) How ripe? Good question, because we are just about too see what can be done by just one believer.

The woman Jesus met at the well went back to Sychar and began to share her experience with some villagers. And it was clear to them, that something about her was different and so some believed that Jesus was the Messiah. (John 4:39)

Others were not so quick to believe, but they wanted to see and hear him for themselves. So, they went to see Jesus. After meeting him, they urged him to stay with them in their homes, and so he did for 2 more days! And because of his words, many more became believers. (John 4:40-42)

Notice, if you will, one woman, who was dying spiritually received a refreshing drink of living water. She tasted the truth and an entire village came to know Jesus. And though some did not believe her words, they still came just to see for themselves.

When I think about the woman at the well, I think about people I know who just keep getting up and moving forward. Each day they go to work, come home and eat but inside they are burned-out. They are going through the motions, but their peace and satisfaction is gone. They are quite literally dying of spiritual thirst. They long for something deeper, more meaningful than living to die. They are hoping and maybe even praying for something greater.

Jesus is the bread of life. (John 6:35) He is the living water that quenches the desires of the deepest soul. When everything else falls apart, when others walk away, Jesus remains. He loves, he forgives, he renews the spirit. Imagine what it would be like to have a cool, refreshing drink of the water of life.

I want you to notice, Jesus did not come condemning, scolding or lording himself over this woman. He came thirsty. He came weary after a long journey. He came as a normal person. He was real.

Christians do themselves and others a disservice when we come with all the answers and fail to listen to others. Jesus came with his need, “Will you give me a drink?” He was appealing to her compassion. His weakness could be fulfilled by her strength. It is because Jesus understands us on a very basic human and personal level, that is why we trust him. That is why the woman at the well opened up to him.

If you are tired, weary, burned-out or empty, it’s time to get some of His Living Water. I pray you will.

Your assignment is…to read Matthew 5:6 and Psalm 90:14. There are words of comfort and direction in scripture. Come and see, come and taste, for the Lord is Good. And you’ll be refreshed.

 “And all God’s People said, Amen”

“Israel asks for a king” – May 10, 2020

Elvis Aaron Presley was born January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. From an early age, he seemed to have a gift for music. As a boy he sang in the church choir. When Elvis was 13, his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee. It was the perfect place to expand his musical talent.

At 19, Elvis played acoustic guitar and could cross-over from rockabilly, country, gospel or rhythm and blues. By the age of 21, he had his first single with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and in November of that year debuted in the movie ‘Love Me Tender’. Heartbreak Hotel would remain at the top of the charts for 7 weeks and stay in the top ten for 11 weeks.

During an interview in May of 1956, blues singer, songwriter and musician Robert Johnson was asked what he thought of Elvis Presley. At one point he called Elvis ‘the fledgling king of rock-n-roll’. In other words, he was saying that Elvis was the emerging young talent that would help define rock-n-roll.

But DJ’s and young female entertainment reporters began calling him ‘king of the billboard’ and ‘the king of rock and roll’. Elvis really disliked the names and told those around him not to call him that. He thought the name was better suited for Bo Didley or Robert Johnson himself.

Nicknames like ‘The Hillbilly Cat’, ‘Elvis the Pelvis’ and ‘Mama’s Boy’ faded over time but the King of Rock-n-Roll was one he could not shack. By all accounts, he even came to accept it – but he never adjusted to being called ‘The King’. That one rubbed his mama the wrong way, she was a firm believer that Jesus was the only King. And history has told us how much Elvis loved his mother!

In our scripture passage today, we will hear about another man, who preferred, at first, to avoid being called ‘the king’. Saul was the son of Kish, of the family of the Matrites, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the twelve Tribes of Israel. They lived in Gibeah which was about 3 miles north of Jerusalem. They were a well-respected and prosperous family; they owned donkeys, oxen, fields for farming and they had servants. (1 Samuel 9:3 and 11:5)

Now, let’s back-up to 1 Samuel Chapter 8 to see how this all began. Israel was Nation of many tribes. After Abraham, Moses and Joshua, God appointed priests, judges and prophets to guide his people. They would share God’s will and help make decisions in relation to God’s word and laws.

Samuel was promised to God by his mother and called by God as a boy to be a prophet. Because of Samuel’s obedience to God, Israel had seen peace under his guidance. (1 Samuel 7:13-14) But as Samuel aged, things began to change. The Philistines were taking more land and the Israelites were worried, they did not trust in God.

In truth, their trust was founded more in Samuel then God. But when Samuel grew too old to continue, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. Joel and Abijah, Samuel’s sons, lived in the southern farthest part of Israel and they already had a reputation for corruption, dishonesty and taking bribes.  (1 Samuel 8:1-3)

So, the elders of Israel called a meeting and then they went to see Samuel at his home.

“You are old”, They said, “and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, like all the other nations have.” Notice, they didn’t say intervene for us with God and ask him to get us a king. (1 Samuel 8:4-5) They were asking Samuel to find someone. Clearly, by this time, their relationship with God was already dead. And when they said essentially, you “Give us a king to lead us”. Samuel was displeased. Enraged would be closer to the truth.

So, Samuel went to God in prayer and explained what fools the Israelites were, for laying such a demand on him. He had already given them an option, but they rejected his suggestion and his sons.

Notice God’s reaction. He is not angry or put off because he saw this coming. And the Lord said, “Listen to what the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, it’s me. They do not want me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7)

God tells Samuel that this has been going on the entire time, since they left Egypt. Then he tells Samuel to listen and give them the king they ask for but also let them know sternly that this king will take advantage of them. God explains so Samuel can share with them,

 “The king will take your sons and put them in his military. He will take your money to wage war. He will take your daughters to cook and bake for him. He will take your best wine and food for himself. He will take your servants and maids to work for him. And he will take a tenth of your flocks and animals.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17)

In other words, you may want a king to work for you, but the nation will end up working for him. Throughout history, we have seen this truth with kings, dictators, presidents and governments in general. Be warned! From the top down and the bottom up; we are supposed to keep God first. (Psalm 46:6-7)

When a nation turns toward their own desires, not God’s that is when the trouble starts.  So Samuel went and warned the elders, but they still demanded a king to lead their nation, just like everyone else around them had. Certainly, if everyone else is doing it, it must be right!

Just an insight, following God is tough. He asks people to do crazy things. Blow horns in battle after marching around a walled city. Or, how about telling a man with a skin disease to wash and dunk himself in a river, 3 times. How about telling a leader to make his army smaller when they were already outnumbered?

Just to be fair, following Jesus was not easy either. Some abandon him because his teaching was too hard. Jesus looked out at over 5,000 people and told his disciples to feed them when they had nothing. He also told parables that confused them. And told them to fish, on the other side of the boat after they had caught nothing all day!

Isaiah 55:8 reads, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” It doesn’t take you long to figure that one out! It just might be easier to follow someone who thinks, more like you and me.

This is where Saul comes into the picture. Saul’s family had a great reputation, his father was a war hero; and Saul was handsome, strong and tall. They also call him young, even though he was 30; what they mean by that, was that he was in the prime of his life.

He was solid and steadfast. We find out that Saul is also a man of discretion, a man who seemed interested in knowing God, he was passionate – and could inspire others. Most importantly, he was humble.

While eating with the prophet Samuel, it was revealed that he was chosen to be the new king of Israel. Saul responded, “But I am only a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and my clan is the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin. How can you say such a thing to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21)

It took some convincing because Saul was not sure he wanted to be king. In the old Mel Brooks movie, History of the World part 1, one of the most repeated lines is, “It’s good to be the king.” That’s because being king has some real benefits, right?

But Shakespeare reminds us in the play Henry the 4th, Part 2, that “Heavy or uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Saul knows everyone will be looking at him and it can be lonely at the top. He never saw himself as king and he was worried. (as he should be)

Samuel goes ahead and anoints Saul and then proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” (1 Samuel 10:6-7)

1 Samuel 10:9 reads, “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.”  This clearly was the start of something good, right? Saul had a heart change, and everything was coming together…or was it?

So, Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel together to choose a king. They cast lots and the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. Then they cast lots for the clans of Benjamin and the clan of Matri was chosen. Finally, they cast lots for all the young men and Saul was chosen. But when they turned around to honor him, he was gone. Not finding him, Samuel prayed to God, “Is Saul here, we cannot find him.” God replied to him, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

Now, I get Saul’s reluctance. When I was told God was calling me into ministry, I tried for a while to ignore that call. Some wise pastors told me to ignore it because, they said, if God is really calling you, he will make it clear.

But I also have a question. I thought God had already changed Saul’s heart. If his heart was changed, why was he hiding? The Israelites chalked this up to humility but in hindsight, I think there was more going on inside Saul then anyone knew.

So, when God revealed Saul’s location, the people ran and brought him out. They were overjoyed, he was strong, handsome, modest and tall. In fact, scripture says, he was a head taller than anyone else. Big and tall somehow signifies they think he will be a bold leader. Samuel cried out, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people!” Then the people cheered and shouted, “Long live the king!”

Many of the people were excited and filled with great joy, but not everyone. Some, who were labeled troublemakers, said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and refused to accept him or bring him gifts of celebration. Saul noticed this but kept silent. (1 Sam. 10:27)

Again, I wonder what was really going on deep down inside Saul’s heart. No one wants to be disliked. He didn’t ask for this. And I think, deep down, it stirred some hidden insecurities. He felt like he had to earn their respect and I think he was afraid of losing it.

The reason I can say that is because his story is a tragedy. It starts out great, but things begin to take an awful turn. Saul’s life begins to unravel. Overtime he became more insecure, jealous, prideful, impatient, he was short-sighted and tried to shift blame to others. The buck never stopped with him; he believed he was a victim.

I think there a few things we can learn from this story, first, When the Israelites asked for a leader like other nations had, that is what they got. What they should have asked for was one that God picked. Saul may have looked the part, but he was not a leader.

While it is easy to pick Saul apart for all his errors, I think we should be a little graceful. He was the first king and had no role model. The best leaders build a great team. They know they cannot go it alone. They have support and they plan-ahead instead of reacting to life. And first and foremost, they know how to pray and ask God for wisdom and discernment. Leaders are not lone rangers.

Saul unfortunately felt alone. He had no support and didn’t listen to good advice. He tried to control every situation and relied on his own ability to problem solve. He often reacted without thinking. That was part of his downfall.

Second, when we as people or a nation, fail to keep God first, we are bound to run into trouble. Israel rejected God as king. They trusted their judges and leaders more than God. They wanted someone they could see and follow.

After all that God had brought them through, they still failed because they did not know the Lord. We can never know God through our parents, grandparents or others. Each person must have a real and personal relationship with Jesus. When we search for something or someone else to fulfill us or help us along, we will not have what we need. Our purpose and fulfilment only comes when we know we are loved and a child of God. There is NO substitute.

Had Saul built a relationship with the Lord and others, he would have been more secure in himself. Unfortunately, he did not, and it hurt him and the nation of Israel. But the truth is, there was plenty of blame to go around. These folks supposed to be God’s chosen people, but they failed to see the God who delivered them from captivity.

Do you know your deliverer? Do you know the real King of kings? God promised a Savior and King. Sadly, the world couldn’t wait. Folks today also have trouble waiting. They think they have all the answers or can get by alone. It didn’t work for Saul and it will not work for us.

Elvis’s mother was right. Jesus is the only King. Do you know him? Life will never be right until you do. Let us pray…

Your assignment is…to get closer to Jesus this week. Spend some time in prayer. Strengthen that relationship. Read the Bible. Learn his story and yours. He will give you peace that passes all understanding. I cannot promise you, that there will be no more problems. Only that you will have hope and rest in him.     May it be so. Amen.

“Life as a House” – May 3, 2020

At the end of the ‘Wizard of Oz’, Dorothy has been on a long and exhausting journey. She is physically and emotionally drained and the only thing on her mind is going home to Kansas. Finally, the Good Witch appears and tells Dorothy to close her eyes, tap the heels of her red shoes together three times, and think to herself ‘there’s no place like home’.

If you have ever played the game trouble, your pegs start at home, travel around the board and return to a safe place, which is essentially home again. Now, for most people, when you mention going home, it brings back happy and peaceful thoughts. We remember our families, good food, warmth and a safe place to retreat from the storms of life.

Back in 1604, Judge Sir Edward Coke declared that a man’s house was his castle and fortress. He went on to explain that it was a place of privacy, protection and rest. It should always be free from violence and theft. Sadly, that is not the case for everyone, but it is our hope.

While I grew up in a broken family, I still look back fondly on the homes we lived in. I remember the places I played, the living rooms where we all gathered, the cellars we hid in – and beds I slept in. We lived in a large two-story farmhouse and later single-story ranch homes. I might even say that home is sacred space for me.

A little while ago, Cindy and I discovered a show we occasionally watch on Netflix called, “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes”. These homes are built in exotic locations and in very unusual ways. One home was built around the wings of a plane. Honestly, many of the homes didn’t look all that comfortable to me.

I thought those were strange until I saw, on the internet, that people actually build houses out of trash. I am not kidding you! They use discarded wood, scrap metal and beat up tin.

But it doesn’t end there; some people use old glass bottles, rubber tires, parts of abandoned cars and buses, broken plastic pieces and empty crates and pallets. Some look pretty amazing when they get finished, but I guess I am a little old fashioned.

Homes in Jesus’ day were often built from stone, a stucco like material, mud and rock. Some homes were built into the side of a hill with caves below where animals were stored. In cities, the homes for the poor were small and square but they often had hard roofs that they used to work and rest on. Inside, they usually had dirt floors.

Matthew 8:20 records Jesus’ words, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In other words, he did not own his own home. But Jesus did seek shelter, rest and comfort in the homes of others.

The place Jesus seemed to feel most at home was in the Synagogue or the Temple. As a boy, Jesus went missing when his family traveled to Jerusalem. After 3 days, his parents found him in the Temple. His mother was upset, and she asked him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Notice, he didn’t call it a Temple but a house. (Luke 2:41-49)

Later, when Jesus travels back to Jerusalem toward the end of his life, he is appalled at those selling animals in the Temple. Enrage, he turns-over some of the tables and proclaims, “My house will be called a house of prayer and you have made it a den of robbers!” (Matt. 21:12-16)

Finally, when Jesus describes heaven to his disciples, he said in John 14:2, “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.”

Home for Jesus seems to be the place where God is. And it can be in a building, but it can also be in a body.

Jesus shocked the Jews when he said, “Destroy this Temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) They thought he was talking about a building, but he was referring to his body as a temple.

Finally, before Jesus ascended, he told the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” Another way to translate that is when the Holy Spirit comes in you. That is when you become a house or a Temple for the Lord.

Paul writes to the Hebrews, “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3:4-6)

Did you ever wonder what it means to be a house of God? I don’t mean going to a church but being a church. Paul actually goes as far as saying, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God? You are not your own: you were bought with a price.  Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

I remember, years ago, talking with a teenage girl who had an eating disorder. The lesson we were covering was about how our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit. She remarked,

“I do not want my body to be a Temple for the Lord. Imagine what he will find if he comes inside.” I just smiled and said, “Yet, that is the point isn’t it? It is scary.”

So, you might ask yourself, “What kind of house am I for the Lord?”

1 Peter 2:4-5 seems better – but is also kind of tough.   

It reads,

 “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…” Now if it ended right there, I would feel better. Maybe I can be a stone in God’s house. But the scripture continues,

 “…to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Have you ever thought of yourself as part of a holy priesthood? What would it mean if we really saw ourselves as a house of God and part of a holy priesthood?

In the movie, “Life as a House”, Kevin Kline is a man named George, coming to the end of his career. He is being forced out of his job because he will not grow and change. As he is leaving, after throwing a fit, he collapses outside.

When he is taken to the hospital, he finds he has terminal cancer and has only a short time to live. He is divorced and had no real relationship with his son. All he has in his life is an old shack that he lives in. And his dream was to tear it down and build a nicer newer home in its place.

George decides it is time to start the project, but he knows he will need assistance. So, he forces his son to come and help. The son hates and resents his father, but they start a journey of destroying the old structure and building a new house that will change everyone around them and themselves.

One critic wrote, “The story is a soulful drama about the courage and persistence of a very alienated middle-age man to give birth to himself in the world, before leaving it.”

Everything, you see, comes down to this, what kind of house do you want to leave behind for others to remember? And of course, when I say house, I mean life.

One final note, this is an adult movie, not recommended for kids.

It is definitely not a Christian movie! Just a warning!

Now, I have nothing against people who want to recycle and build their homes out of trash. But I think it is the wrong image for me when I think about being a house for the Lord. I hope we all build our homes on better foundation, one laid in Jesus.

I want my home to be a place of comfort, not conflict.

I place of rest, not restlessness.

I place of safety, not self-destruction.

A place of love, not a loveless place.

And a place where God is at home and has free range to walk in every room.

What about you?

Your assignment is…to examine your life as a house.

Do you need to do a little spring cleaning? Is it time to upgrade?

What kind of house do you want to give to God and leave behind?

In a minute, we will be sharing in communion. Leave the dust behind and reflect on how your body is a Temple of God.

 “And All God’s People said, Amen”

“Coming out of the Shadows and into the Light” – April 26, 2020

There is an old Chinese fable about a group of elderly, cultured gentlemen who came together regularly to exchange wisdom and drink tea. Over time, each host began trying to one-up the others by getting the finest and most exotic teas and cookies.

When they gathered at the home of the eldest, most distinguished member of the group, he served his tea with class and style. The teacups were exquisite, and the tea leaves were measured out carefully from a golden box with elaborate Peacocks on the top.

After each person blow off the steam, they each took a sip and went on and on about this delicious, impeccable tea. The wise host smiled and said, “Thank you, you are all so kind. In fact, the tea you have found so wonderful is the same tea the peasants drink every day. May this be a reminder to us all, to not put so much value on what we serve or who serves it but focus on the joy of being together.”

During this time, when we are all separated, it is easy to focus on the wrong things. It is easy to point out what we do not have. Instead, let’s focus on how fortunate we are to be together, worshiping our amazing Lord and Savior Jesus.

Throughout the Bible, Jesus focused his attention on every day, ordinary people. He did not come to hang-out with kings or scholars. He spent his time with fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, sailors, a banker, and ex-patriots. Even less notable in his day; he spent time with women, children, the elderly, the sick, the mentally challenged, and people of other religious backgrounds. He talked to the kinds of people that others ignored or avoided. No one was unimportant to him. Each person had a place in his kingdom; from the greatest to the least. He just homed in on the least and lost.

His focus, Jesus said was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) While that really covers all of us, he was reaching out to those in the shadows to bring them into the light.

In our world, we focus way too much on the sports heroes, artists, movie or TV stars and the rich. We feel like famous celebrities are our closest friends. When Tom Hanks gets sick, he gets well wishes from all over the world. But others in our own neighborhoods go unnoticed.

Let’s take a look at our Bible, for instance. How many names can you recall? Jesus, the disciples, Mary, Paul, King David, Solomon, Ruth, Moses, Joseph, Abraham, Deborah; good. But did you know there are 3,237 different people in the Bible? Then, of course, there are the stories about people who go unnamed. There are well-over one thousand more people (if you don’t include those in large crowds).

The truth is, there are more people that we do not know by name in the Bible than what we actually know. Much like real life. One of those persons in our Bible is Matthias. The only information about him in the Bible is found in Acts Chapter 1.

After the ascension of Jesus, Acts 1:12 tells us that the followers of Jesus returned to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Present were the 11 disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus, the other women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and Salome; they were the women at the tomb), and Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 13:55 lists his brothers as James, Joseph, Simon and Judas).

From that list, we have at least 20 people all living in the upper room. They sat down to discuss what to do next.

Then it says in verse 15, “In those days, while they were waiting on the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter called for a meeting of all the believers. 120 of them came together.”

Then Peter stood up to address the crowd, “Brothers and sisters, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke about long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

 “For”, said Peter, “It is written in the book of Psalms, (from Psalm 69:25 he quotes,) “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it.” And, from Psalm 109:8 he quotes, “May another take his place of leadership.”

It will be interesting, one day in heaven to ask Peter why he picked these particular passages. He was not led by the Holy Spirit because the Spirit had not come yet. But I think it is important to point out that God’s word was his guiding light. He went to scripture.

He continues, “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who has been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

The first logical question is why do they need to pick a replacement for Judas? Jesus chose 12 disciples to stand for and be sent out to the 12 tribes of Israel. Also, the Sanhedrin stated that the number of officers in a community, should be one-tenth of the total membership (120 – 12).

Notice it is Peter (the Rock) who takes the leadership role. He states, the person we choose must have been there from the time Jesus was baptized until he ascended. In other words, this person must have heard Jesus preach, seen his miracles, seen his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, been close by for the crucifixion, walked with the resurrected Jesus and witnessed his rise to heaven.

It makes me wonder, why have we never heard these people’s names? And it makes me curious, how many people actually followed Jesus along? Certainly, many came and went but some, maybe more than we think, must have remained close.

Out of the 120 present, 2 men were chosen because they met all the requirements. Maybe there were others, but these were the top 2 choices. Let’s not forget, there were certainly women who were with Jesus the entire time, but they were not considered credible witnesses.

So, the two men were, Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so, he was added to the eleven apostles. Unfortunately, that is where his story ends. He is never mentioned again in scripture. Matthias is finally out of the shadow of the other disciples and now he can leave his legacy, but we know almost nothing about him. Doesn’t that seem strange?

Matthias has been called unremarkable, ordinary, insignificant and a major disappointment by some. He has been called a second-string player that should never have come off the bench. Some call him a mistake and claim the disciples should have waited longer to replace Judas. Some suggest Paul should have been the last of the 12 disciples. Matthias was not hand-picked by Jesus or chosen with the help of the Holy Spirit.

He was, for heaven’s sake, chosen by casting lots! It was all a matter of luck! Let me just say, casting lots (like drawing straws, rolling dice or drawing a stone out of basket) were also used with approval by Priests and Old Testament leaders. They believed God influenced the outcome when they cast lots.

While that is not our way and was never used again after the coming of the Holy Spirit, it was a legitimate practice at the time. One other thought, Joseph called Barsabbas also disappeared without a trace from scripture.

So, what do we actually know about Matthias outside the Bible? Matthias means “gift of God”. He was mentioned by 5 important Jewish writers and is included in some other documents. Here is what scholars tell us,

Matthias was most likely born in Bethlehem and was a descendent of Judah. Some have suggested he grew up at the feet of Simeon, the priest. We know he was part of the 120 that followed Jesus and most likely part of the 72 chosen by Jesus to go ahead of them from town to town. (Luke 10:1) Historian Eusebius recorded this fact.

We know he was a faithful follower of Jesus and was chosen to be the replacement for Judas. He was clearly present at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down. He saw the birth of the early church and was forced to scatter during the persecution. He preached and taught throughout the land. Many locations are mentioned but it is hard to verify them (Turkey, Ethiopia, Gonio which is modern day Georgia, and finally back to Jerusalem). And he was most likely martyred for his faith, but the details are sketchy. Beyond that, there are some apocryphal (or mythical) writings but they tell us nothing helpful.

While Paul called himself an Apostle, many disagreed because he did not fit into the category of those who witnessed all of Jesus’ life and resurrection. So, Matthias was considered the last Apostle by many. Yet it is clear, that Paul was called and sent by Jesus himself.

The Catholic Church made Matthias a saint, but many still wonder about his place in Christianity. What did he accomplish? Someday, just maybe, archeologists will find some clues.

Matthias seems to be the forgotten disciple, but I would argue, that should not make his life insignificant. Many Christians have walked a faithful life and helped bring needed changes to our world and yet we do not know their names. They gave God the glory and chose not to stand in the spotlight.

For every Billy Graham in the world, there are thousands of unnamed Christians who have contributed just as much or more. They served our Lord with distinction and honor. They remained faithful and some have even given their lives. They may not have been chosen first, but they stepped up when God called.

We all dream of being recognized and thanked for our work. I would guess everyone in this room would love to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. And if you have been faithful, I am sure you will hear it. But most of us will probably fly under the radar.

My name will never be recorded like Matthias’ name, but I am ok with that. In fact, because the lot fell to Matthias, I think we should show him respect and not discount his life. We have no idea what he did or what he suffered for the faith.

Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1958 to 1969 said, “Let me tell you about Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays Second violin with as much enthusiasm . . . now that’s the problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

Dan Smiley, the second fiddle of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra said, “Playing second fiddle may imply being second best, but the preparation for playing first or second violin is exactly the same.”

The role of an understudy in a play may not be as glamorous as a lead role, but you better know your lines if you are called up! I have no doubt that Matthias was someone who stayed true to his calling. To be honest, sometimes just being called up is enough. If you are someone in the shadows, being called by name and sent by God brings its own rewards. And it is funny how God calls people who are lost…up and into the light.

Gloria Estefan was the singer for the group Miami Sound Machine. Back in March of 1990, while on tour, an 18-wheeler rammed her tour bus and nearly killed Gloria. She ended up in the hospital with a broken back.   She was a dancer. It must have been horrible, when she was told that she would probably never walk again. But after a lengthy surgery and intense physical therapy ‘that left her in tears’, in under a year, she was back on stage singing.

The first song she wrote with her husband and friends was “Coming out of the Dark” on her Album/CD ‘Into the Light’. Listen to the opening and chorus,

Why be afraid if I’m not alone,
Though life is never easy – the rest is unknown.
Up to now for me it’s been – hands against stone.
Spent each and every moment,
Searching for what to believe

Coming out of the dark,

I finally see the light now
It’s shining on me
Coming out of the dark

I know the love that saved me

You’re sharing with me.

I just want to say, for all of you out there listening today, God knows you by name and you are not alone. While it may seem that we are living in the shadows with this corona virus, it won’t be long, and we will be coming out of the dark. Each and every person is precious, in God’s sight. (Isaiah 43:4) Don’t miss the Good News, Jesus has gone ahead, and he has good things planned up ahead. Repent and believe. God deserves our praise and thanks.

Your assignment is…to look through your Bible and find a passage or story that will give you hope. I love Jeremiah 29:11. It was during a dark time that God said, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Once you find your passage, write it down or print it off and post it at home where you will see it often. The same way Peter went to God’s word for insight, – find a passage that gives you hope and light for these days ahead.

Amen.