The Lord Is My Shepherd!

Psalm 23 says the Lord is our shepherd. Jesus speaks of himself as a good shepherd. If the Lord is our shepherd then that means we are the sheep. So, Jesus points out to his listeners that they are the sheep because they don’t know their shepherd.

From our readings the shepherd and the sheep have a relationship. Jesus speaks of the shepherd calling his sheep. Sheep have no instinct for living in the rough, but they have an instinct for following their shepherd’s voice. They will come when they hear their shepherd voice.

My husband had a church member - one who kept sheep. She would go out in the pasture at night to call them into the barn and they would follow her. Once she broke her leg and her husband went out to call them in and they would not come. He had to put her in a wheelbarrow and cart her out to the pasture so that she could call them in.

IMG_0098.jpg

They did not recognize his voice so they would not come. Sheep have a natural trust of the people who care for them. Often times several shepherds would keep their sheep together and one shepherd could come and call his own to himself out of the group.

So, the sheep know their Shepherd and they are loyal to him. The shepherd also knows the sheep. Jesus says the shepherd knows the sheep by name and calls them by name. Remember... when Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb she though Jesus body had been stolen! In her confusion she ran right into the Lord but she mistook him for the gardener. It wasn’t until he called her name that she realized it was Jesus and he was alive.

Do you know your shepherd’s voice? You have to be listening to it to recognize it. Listen through scripture, in the writings and hymns and songs of our faith, and in prayer… When you pray do you allow times of silence to listen to the Lord?

Spend some time learning your shepherd’s voice. A false shepherd may come along. If we don’t know our shepherd’s voice we might follow a false shepherd. The false shepherd comes to steal the sheep. Take time to cultivate your relationship with the Lord - learn to recognize his voice.

From these passages we also learn that the sheep are protected and delivered by the shepherd. Jesus says, “I am the gate to the sheepfold.” Just a minute ago he said he was the shepherd and now he is the gate. The shepherd sometimes lied across the doorway and became the gateway into the fold. Anything or anyone going in or out had to go by him.

This means two things. First, the shepherd keeps thief out of the fold. The shepherd protects the sheep. Psalm 23 says, “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” The staff would be used to beat off wild animals.

Second, it’s mean that you have to go through Jesus to get into the fold. This is one of those statements that are crucial to the Christian faith that many are uncomfortable with. Jesus is the way - No one comes to the Father but by him. No one else can save people from their sin.

Jesus is the good shepherd who delivers and protects his fold. But you have to be in the fold. Are you in the fold? Jesus is the only way in. Being a member of a church is not the way in - it is a good way to be a faithful member of a fold but it is not the way. Jesus is the way!

Just coming to church is not the way into the fold. Again, it is a good way to follow the shepherd. But Jesus is the only way. If you want the Lord to deliver and protect you as your shepherd you have to come through Jesus, he is the gate into the fold.

The benefits of this relationship and of being part of the fold are many. Because the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. The Lord will provide for all our needs. That doesn’t mean that Christians do not suffer from time to time. But God is with us through those times of suffering. He will lead us to green pastures and still waters. He will restore our souls.

Because the Lord is my shepherd I am protected and cared for. His rod and his staff they comfort us. Our shepherd protects us from wild animals. Later in John, Jesus says that the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And our shepherd did die for us!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. Our shepherd is there with us through the dark times of our lives. He is even with us sustaining us in the face of our enemies. He anoints our heads with oil; our cups overflow. Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my live and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever, because the Lord is my shepherd.

Do you know the voice of your shepherd? Do you come when he calls? Would you flee from a false shepherd no matter how nice her voice sounded? Are you in the fold?

Sheep have a bad habit of wandering off. The Shepherd takes them to a green pasture. And they begin peacefully grazing. They don’t look up and they just graze their way away from the shepherd. But the shepherd comes looking for the lost sheep.

Is the Lord your shepherd? If not come in through Jesus the gate to the sheepfold. If the Lord is your shepherd, then listen to your shepherd and follow his voice. If the Lord is your shepherd; you shall not want and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever! Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Psalm 23, John 10:11-18

 

Peace Be With You!

Last week John told us that the doors and windows were locked and the room was dark. The air in the room was probably hot because there was no air condition. The disciples were gathered for fear of the Jews. So, everyone was quiet; whispering so softly.

The Jewish authorities had crucified Jesus just three days before. What would they do to them? They kept quiet so that no one would find them. Perhaps they thought of fleeing the city by night to escape.

That morning some women started babbling about Jesus being alive. The idea that someone had stolen his body had pushed them over the edge. The air was so hot with tension that Thomas decided to leave for a while.

Then someone knocked on the door. Everyone held their breath for fear of the Roman soldiers they might come to arrest them. But it was just two of Jesus followers who had left town that morning. They were also talking about seeing the Lord. Then the door was quickly shut and locked again and they continued to talk softly.

Suddenly, there was light in the darkness. The light wasn’t coming through the windows or the doors for they were still locked. It was from the middle of the room. And it was coming from Jesus!

Jesus was standing in the middle of the room; alive! He opened his arms and said, “Peace be with you!” They were shocked and terrified. Perhaps they had lost their minds. Or maybe they thought it was Jesus’ ghost come to haunt them for betraying him.

Jesus said, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Even as they looked at his hands and feet they had trouble believing. Then Jesus said, “I’m hungry. Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him some fish and watched in amazement as he ate.

Then Jesus began to teach them saying, “I’ve already told you this but I’m going to tell you again. Everything the Bible says will happen must happen. It is written that I should die on a cross and rise on the third day.”

He continued, “It is God’s will that everyone hears about repentance and forgiveness in my name. Begin in Jerusalem and tell it to all the world. Be my witnesses! And tell all people they may have new life through me!”

So, they joke to each other saying, “This man must be crazy. If we go out openly talking about following Jesus, they will kill us! ‘Go witness!’ That is easy for him to say. He has been crucified, but I haven’t. I don’t plan to be.”

Then Jesus said, “Remember when the prophets promised that God would pour out the spirit on all flesh. That is about to happen! Just stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from above.”

They told people about repentance and forgiveness. And the church moved out of that hot dark upper room. So, at Pentecost they opened the doors and let some fresh air in. The fresh air of the Holy Spirit came in tongues of flame with power of Jesus repentance and forgiveness.

But the church today seems to have retreated to that Upper Room mentality. We no longer locked the doors and windows. Instead we hide behind carved doors and colored stain glass windows.

IMG_5313.jpg

We need to open the doors and windows and let some fresh air in. But people are afraid to let in some fresh air. They are afraid that those outside will find out that they are disciples of Christ. They are afraid to go out and face the ugliness of the world and tell about Jesus’ love.

So, we hide in our Sunday morning Upper Rooms. And we keep quiet for fear that the neighbors will hear us. But Jesus tells us to be witnesses. To go boldly into the world and tell people of Jesus’ love.

Have you ever sat down and told someone about Jesus? Have you told them that Jesus died for their sins? Have you told them if they would accept him they would have eternal life? Have you taken the risk to love the outcast because God first loved you?

You might be afraid to let people know you are a Christian. They might think you are devoted. They might not associate with you. If you showed God’s love to the wrong people or spoke out against the wrong thing, they might not like you anymore.

If you are afraid, for whatever reason, you are not alone. Jesus’ first witnesses were afraid too. But God breathe on them the strength to face their fears. And God will breathe on you some strength and power to be his witnesses. Peace be with you! Simply Believe! Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Luke 24:36-49

Jesus Is With Us!

I want us to imagine for a moment that we are not here. I don’t want you to imagine that you are on the lake or mountain. Instead I want us to imagine we are in the room that we just heard about in John. And each of us is one of those Disciples.

Imagine you are in a dark room. The room the disciples were in was dark. The sun was shining outside, but the doors and windows are shut tight. Today is the first day of the week, three days ago Jesus was crucified. 

IMG_2070.jpg

We were all watching as they hammered the nail into Jesus’ hands and feet. And only Lord knows what they will do to us his disciples. They may arrest and torment us. They may crucify us like what they did to Jesus.

We had seen Jesus die but the trouble he started was still going on. Some people just want to stir up trouble. First, they killed Jesus - now it seems that someone has stolen his body. On top of all this fear we are still trying to deal with the grief.

Poor Mary who saw Jesus was stolen this morning has been doing nothing but babbling about seeing him alive and thinking he was the gardener. Peter and John haven’t said a thing since they saw empty tomb.

The disciples were hiding in the upper room for fear of the Romans soldiers. Suddenly, they were not alone. Jesus appeared in the midst of them. They probably thought they were seeing ghost. And they began to wonder if this was Jesus’ ghost.

I believe they were probably more afraid now. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. It was not his ghost. He was alive and he had blessed them! Then Jesus told them to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News.

But Thomas was not with them. He hadn’t been there to see Jesus. If I were Thomas I would have a hard time believing. The other disciples had not believed he was alive when Mary told them the story. Why should he believe that Jesus has risen without seeing?

Things have not changed that much since then. In some places in the world - Christians still hide from the authorities. Most of us can gather freely without fear of being killed. But we still live in a hostile world. A world that ridicules and mocks our values.

A world that disgraces us as we try to help those who are not worth helping. A world that crucifies us because we say that lifestyles are sinful and only Christ’s blood can atone for it. A world that ignores us when we say that life comes out of death.

So, many times we Christians cower in our churches and refuse to go out into the streets for fear that someone will ridicule us for what we are. Like the disciples, we close the doors and windows tight so no one find us.

But Jesus knows our fear just as he knew his disciples’ fear. Just as he was in the presence of them in that upper room, he is here with us. Now he says, “Peace be with you.” Do not fear the world outside for I am with you.

Friends, we are strengthened by Christ’s presence. It says that Jesus breathed on the disciples. The Greek word for spirit is pnewma and the Hebrew word is ruach. And they both also mean wind or breath.

In creation God breathed the breath of life into the first human. So, here Jesus is breathing the breath of new life into the disciples. And Jesus is breathing on us the breath of new life and enables us and empowers us.

Jesus is with us. We live in an intimidating and a hostile world. The people outside want to crucify us just like they did to Jesus. We are not alone. Jesus is present with all who believe. He is giving all of us new life.

The world outside will ridicule you if you try to live Christianity outside these walls. They will call you names. And they will reject you.

Christ sends us out into the world. To proclaim the good news of his resurrection. We do not go alone. We go with the power of the one through whom all things were created. With the strength of the one who was raised from the dead and lives forever. Shalom and Amen! 

Scripture: John 20:19-31

 

Look Up To The Cross!

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The people of Israel were wandering in the desert. The desert is an awful place, and there is not much in it. There is not much water and food.

There are a lot of things in the desert. There are a lot of prickly plants. There are a lot of snakes and scorpions. There are also a lot of vultures to remind you of what will happen if you don’t get out. The weather is not pleasing. It is hot in the daytime, and really cold at night.

River Canyon.jpg

The Israelites had been in the desert and there was no hope. Some began to complain. The Bible says, “They became impatient on the way.” They said, “Moses, why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and we hate this miserable food. We roast in the day and freeze at night.”

The people complained and God allowed poisonous serpents to bite them. Some of them came to Moses and asked him to pray to God that this curse would end. It took a while, but they finally turned to God.

God planned to save Israelites not to destroy them. God was leading them out of slavery. God heard their cries of pain and it hurt. God felt the fierce serpents as they did. God saw they were turning back to the Lord.

God said to Moses, “Make a bronze serpent. It will remind people of their disobedience, but it will also be the means of their salvation. Nail the bronze snake to a pole. Lift it high so that it can be seen from every part of the camp. When anyone is bitten by a serpent they need to look up at the bronze serpent and they will be healed.”

Moses did as God directed and the people were saved. But there were a few stubborn people. This is how human nature is. Some refused to follow God’s directions. There were some who would not look up to God because they are stubborn. And they perished.

The people of God have always been in a wilderness. I’m not talking about the land in Israel and the Holy Land. I am talking about the spiritual surroundings in which the people of God live. This world is an awful place to wander spiritually. Often times it is hard to find spiritual food.

The world knows nothing of the bread of life. In this desert the nights are dark and as cold as a dead heart, and the days are as hot as the fires of hell. And there are many sins waiting to sting and bite.

Many people are perished in a wilderness of sin. They are bit by various desires. Some lost in the darkness and cold of night. Some burn under the heat of the day.

Look at the world around you! People are possessed by sins of greed and lust. Many are possessed by desire for drugs. People ignore those in need around them. They fall and lost in the desires of the flesh.

But God is not blind to what is happening. God sees and cares. God sees the perishing. God hears and feels the cries of pain of their suffering.

So, God loves the world. God decided to offer salvation for people. But this situation is bigger. The problem is bigger. It was not just a group of pilgrims in the wilderness. It is an entire world of people lost in sin.

The cause of suffering is not just a few hundred snakes. It is all the demons and serpents of hell. Sin and death are killing people. The solution is a global one not just a local one. It is to heal the world of the effects of sin. It is to cure death itself and ensure eternal life.

God took the sins of the world poured them out of an old dusty flask. God mixed them with the tears of a mother and a father. Then God called his son and poured the sins of the world on him. If that were not enough, God took his son and nailed him to a pole.

God lifted him up high for all to see and said, “Look at what I have done for you. Look at the sins of the world poured on the only righteous person ever live. Look upon your sin and be saved. Jesus death is for all.”

There were some stubborn people refused to look up. They would rather look down and perish. They loved the darkness, not the light. And they perished.

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up, for God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God sent his son to die so the world might be saved. So, those who look up to Jesus for salvation will be saved. Shalom and Amen! 

Scriptures: Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21

 

Stop Making The Temple A Marketplace!

We call the church “God’s House.” In Jesus’ day people called the Jerusalem Temple, God’s House. They said it was the house of God! It was the place where God chose to dwell among his people. The Bible tells us in the middle of the Jerusalem Temple was a room called Holy of Hollies. In that room was the ark of the covenant. Above the ark was God’s Spirit.

The Jerusalem Temple was called “holy.” In Hebrew word for holy is “qadosh.” It means set apart or separated. The opposite of holy is “profane” or “common.” So, the temple was a holy place because it had been set aside as the dwelling place of God and nothing else.

Because the temple was holy, people took the time to make a pilgrimage to the temple for holy days. Jesus and his disciples were no different. When the Feast of Passover approached they made their way to the Temple. The holy place set apart for praising and worshipping God.

fullsizeoutput_14b24.jpeg

When they entered God’s house, Jesus didn’t find what he expected. He expected to hear Hymns being sung. He expected to see rabbis teaching the Scriptures. He expected to see people kneeling in prayer. He expected to smell incense and burnt offerings to God. He expected the Temple to be full of people worshipping God.

That isn’t what he found. Instead of prayers, he heard the clanging of cow bells, the bleating of sheep, and the clanking of coins. Instead people kneeling in prayer, he saw buying, selling, making deals and trading. Instead of the nice smells of incense and burnt offerings, he found the foul smells of sweaty animal and of sheep and ox dirt.

Instead of worshippers, he found people cheating and stealing. The sights, sounds, and smells Jesus faced were those of the marketplace not of the temple. Marketplace’s atmosphere had taken over the temple. If it was no longer separated from the world; it was no longer holy.

Jesus couldn’t take it. He cleaned it up and make it holy. He drove out the people and their animals. He turned over tables of the money changers. And he said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

What Jesus did was very significant and radical. People believed the temple was holy and Jesus said it wasn’t. They wondered, “Who is he to do that? What authority did he have to make that kind of a statement? Only God can decide that the temple was no longer holy.”

So, they asked him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This amazed those who were listening. It had taken 46 years to build the temple, and it wasn’t finished yet. How could he rebuild it in three days?

The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed just as Jesus predicted. It has not been rebuilt to this day. But Jesus’ prediction did come true. The temple he was speaking of was his body. God dwelt in him. They destroyed his body just as he said. And three days later he was raised up. So, Christ’s death and resurrection changed everything.

The followers of God no longer need to go to temple and make sacrifices to atone for their sins. Christ’s death was and is the only sacrifice ever needed for the sins of the world. Through his death and resurrection Christ replaced the temple with himself. No longer would God dwell in the Holy of Hollies. Jesus became the presence of God in our midst. He lives in our heart making each of us a Holy of Hollies; a walking temple.

The Bible says that we are God’s holy people. (I Peter 2:9) It also says that each of us are living stones built into the temple of God. (I Peter 2:5) He dwells in our hearts just as God dwelt in the temple. God has set us apart to be a holy people just as the temple was a holy place.

Are we really holy? Are we set apart and different? You might say, “I have accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior so I am holy and saved.” That is right in part. Because you have accepted Christ, his blood covers your sins and you are saved. Your faith is counted to you as righteousness. You will go to heaven because of Jesus’ death. But are you living a holy life?

Are you living for Jesus? As Christians we are saved by Jesus. We are called to live holy lives for Christ.

You know the ten commandments. Jesus said if you think about doing these things you have done them. I wonder how many of us are guilty of having broken all the commandments. Our hearts are wicked. They have been filled with every kind of desire the marketplace can provide. We have all sinned and fallen short of his glory.

Let Jesus come in and cleanse our hearts like he did the temple. As Easter approaches ask Jesus to cleanse your hearts. Allow him to come in and overturn the moneychanger’s tables. Drive out the sellers of sheep and oxen. We can dwell in Christ and he in us and we will be walking talking breathing temples of the living God. And the holy of hollies where the spirit of the living God dwells will be in our hearts. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: John 2:13-22

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust!

The Bible reminds us that we were all made from the dust of the earth, and we will return to it. In the creation story, God takes clay and breathes life into it. And the first human being was created. It tells us how humanity fell. So, sin came into the world. And because of sin, death.

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. We are nothing but ashes and dust as part of the theme of this season. Perhaps it is the most important part of Lent. We like to emphasize the positive and eliminate the negative. But Lent makes us look at our own sinfulness. Without God we are as lifeless as the dust of the earth and we are as dead as the rocks.

 Today Scriptures deal with the reality of the deadness of the human race. One is about a promise of life from a lifeless and barren womb. The other is about the death of Christ. The first is about God making a covenant with Abraham. The Bible says Abraham was 99 years old.

Abraham was old and Sarah was not far behind him. She was probably in her late eighties. The two of them had reached the point in their lives when most people sit in rocking chairs on their front porches spending times with great grandchildren. But they had no children. Sarah was barren and much too old to bear children.

So, God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him. God said, “I want to make a deal with you. You walk blameless before me and I will make you a great nation. You shall no longer be called Abram, but you shall be called Abraham, Father of multitudes.”

How could Abram become a great nation with no children? He was the end of his line. But there was Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Sarah’s servant. He could produce descendants. But God said, “Your wife Sarai shall no longer be called Sarai but Sarah. I will bless her and she will bear you a child. She will be the mother of nations.”

Could a 100-year-old man have a baby boy? A 90-year-old woman bear a child? “God bless Ishmael and we will be fine. I am too old to raise children, he said.” God said, “That is your way! I’m a God of hope. Your wife Sarah will bear a son. And my promise will be fulfilled.”

The lifeless womb of Sarah was a reality. The physical reality of a ninety-year-old woman cannot bear children. Life could not be produced from an old couple. They were close to returning to dust themselves. But God decided to make Abraham a great nation. God decided to take something lifeless and create life out of it.

Thousands of years later Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer. And he will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. He will be killed. And on the third day he will rise again. Jesus said this plainly so they would not misunderstand him.

But Peter pulled him aside and said, “No, Lord you have it all wrong. You are the Messiah the Son of the Living God. A minute ago, you asked me who I thought you were, and I said you are the Messiah. You are supposed to go to Jerusalem and all people will greet you as King. You will not die, you will live forever!”

Jesus said, “Peter you have it all wrong. That is the world’s way. My way is different. My way is to bring life out of death. The world says, ‘Look out for yourself, save what you’ve got.’ But my way says, ‘If you try to preserve your life you will lose it and if you lose your life for my sake you will preserve it into eternal life.’ So, I must die to bring you eternal life.”

We live in a world where death is a reality. There is death of sin. There is lifelessness of our stone-cold culture. There is the decay of our own bodies and the death of our loved ones. There is the mass death of war. And there is the lifelessness of the human soul without God.

These things cannot be denied. Our culture praises youth. It is part of our attempt to deny the fact that we all will die. We try to project the image we are eternally young. We attempt to deny the reality of death is the way we treat war. War is a war and people get killed.

Sometimes innocent people. Sometimes a bomb, which is intended to destroy a bridge, hits a house and civilians are killed. We refer to it as “collateral damage.” Sometimes a shooting at schools and churches. The truth is - we come from dust and we return to dust.

But Jesus offers us hope. God brings life out of death. God made the lifeless womb of Sarah bear a great nation. God brought eternal life out of the death of Jesus. God brings life out of the deadness of tomb. God has taken the grave and lifeless dust and turned it into new life.

God can take the dead and lifeless parts of our lives and breathe in new life. If we deny these lifeless parts exist, no life will come out of them. If we deny sin kills our spirits, God can’t breathe in new life.

The world says, “Life can only come where there is life.” God brings life out of death. God can bring life out of ashes and dust of our lives. Shalom and Amen!

Scriptures: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38

Be Silent, And Come Out!

 One Sunday morning Jesus was preaching in the Synagogue. So, during the service a man with an unclean spirit cried out loud, “Have you come to destroy us Son of God?” Jesus said, “Be silent, and come out of him.” Then the man returned to his right mind. The people were amazed at Jesus’ authority and power. And they said to each other, “He commanded demons and they obeyed.”

People believed in demons. They believed demons occupied dark and unclean places. If a person wasn’t careful in these places, a demon might get into them. It was believed demons caused mental illnesses.

The man with an unclean spirit actually suffered from insanity. He suffered from the delusion owned by demon. He thought Jesus was out to get him. If he was mistaken, then how did he know Jesus was the Son of God? I am sure everyone in that synagogue were amazed. They were talking about his authority and his power of teachings.

We don’t believe in demons anymore. The last time you were sick you went to a doctor, right? We believe in modern medicine for treatments. We asked a pastor or friend to pray for us. They maybe prayed that God would give wisdom and guidance to the doctors and nurses.

Today people avoid dark places and protect their homes against the evil of crime and violence. They fear that robs one of a good quality of life. In ancient societies people believed they were possessed by demons. Today people are possessed by desires, lusts and addictions.

Forces of evil exist. I don’t believe in the devil that hide in dark and unclean places. But I do believe in evil that can take over people’s lives. So, these demons are fears, anxieties and hungers that stay in the dark places of people’s hearts. They are demonic evil forces that cause racial violence and domestic abuse. They are seducing people to throw their lives away for money, sex or drugs.

Evil demonic forces exist! They may not take the form of devils. They take form in the evil and sin in the world. These evil forces can possess and work through people.

But the existence of demons is not what our passage about. The Bible is more concerned with “Who is Jesus and what is he doing?”

The real issue in this passage is the authority of Jesus. It opens with the people being amazed at the way Jesus teaches. He doesn’t teach like the scribes. Jesus says as if his word should be enough to believe.

People were offended and said, “Who does this man think he is and what is he doing?” The demon said, “Have you come to destroy us, Son of God?” Jesus has come with power and authority to destroy the forces of evil. Jesus has power and authority to remove evil from our lives! So, I want you to repeat after me: “Jesus has power and authority to remove evil from my life.”

Now, imagine if the forces of evil gathered before us. There is violent crime making people shrink for fear behind locked doors. There is drug addiction dragging victims around in chains. Here is domestic violence abusing those closest to him. Here are racism, materialism, me-ism, and all other evils that invade our lives.

Maybe if we close our eyes they will go away. No, it doesn’t work. They are too real to just ignore. Maybe we can run from them. It won’t work either. Escap-ism is waiting to take us if we try. We can’t defeat them. We don’t have strength to defeat even poverty.

But Jesus can! He came to destroy evil. Jesus has the power and authority to tell evil where to go. And we should have that power to tell evil to go away!

Don’t ignore the power of evil in our world. Whether you believe the devil is an actual entity or just a metaphor for evil. Just look around you at what is happening in our world. Evil is real. Know Christ is able to overpower evil.

Jesus was in the synagogue casting out demon. Jesus is here! Are there any evil forces in your life? Evil of fear, anxiety or even threatens to take over your life. Jesus is the Son of God! Jesus has the power and authority and is here today to destroy the demons.” Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Mark 1:21-28

Drop Your Nets?

The Gospel story tells us that Jesus went by the Sea of Galilee. He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting net into the sea. So, Jesus called them. “Simon, Andrew, come follow me and I will make you fish for people.” They left their new boat and new nets behind to follow Jesus.

As Jesus went a little farther, he saw Zebedee and his sons, James and John were in their boat mending their nets. Jesus called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

James and John like Simon and Andrew had heard about Jesus. They had even heard him preach and seen him heal and cast out demons. I think their father was so glad to see them take an interest in Jesus. An old man Zebedee believed in that old-time religion. 

So, when Jesus came along with Simon and Andrew and called James and John, they drop their nets and followed. Their father had the hired hands to help him. They left their father and followed Jesus.

So, these four disciples dropped their nets to follow Jesus. Some thought these were poor men who were not leaving much behind. They were like homeless men leaving their fishing poles and try their luck at the downtown missions. But these four fishermen left a lot behind by dropping their nets. For each of them those nets represented different things.

 

 

IMG_5868.jpg

 

For Simon and Andrew those nets represented their life’s work. They were hard working men who had built up a business through that work. When Jesus came they were out in their boat casting their nets. They had the first boat out and last one back every day.

James and John were different. They were in the boat when Jesus came mending their nets. They were very close with their father and his business. But it was more than business. It was family.

They were not building something new - they were mending and maintaining something old and valuable. When they left to follow Jesus, they left their father and business. The business would go on. The old Man had trusted employees could carry on. The business wasn’t the issue. It was their father they were leaving behind.

I met many people who left behind a lot to follow Jesus. I knew one person who had owned his own computer company. He had built it from the ground up. But when he heard his call - he sold it to go to seminary. He dropped his internet to follow Jesus.

I can remember where I dropped my net to follow Jesus. I can even show you the place. I heard several calls to ministry very young but I ignored them. But I just dropped my nets when we moved here for my husband’s appointment to Greeley.

Where are your nets? What have you left behind? It is not just apostles that drop their nets to follow Jesus. We all have to give up something. Some of the early Christians had given up their lives. Some today following Jesus still facing persecution and even death.

Everyone who follow Jesus leaves something behind. For some it is the indifference of not loving your neighbor. It is so much easier to ignore your neighbor than to love them. Because to love them means you have to reach out to them and help them in their troubles.

For some it means leaving behind professions and friends. Some professions can’t be carried on by Christians or if they are carried on in a Christian way- others push you out. Friends who are used to your old ungodly ways reject you when you start acting in a Godly way.

Sometimes even churches have to drop their nets to follow Jesus. They have to drop old ideas of who they are so they can be what God is calling them to be. Sometimes congregations have to drop traditions.

Have you dropped your nets? These four disciples dropped them but most people try to follow Jesus without dropping their nets. They simply drag them along. And they often get tangled up in their old nets.

Friends, do you know we all are dragging some nets? The old ideas and prejudice, dreams and allegiances are delaying our walk with Christ. As we try to follow Jesus our feet keep getting caught in them and we stumbled. Now, drop our nets and follow Jesus. Shalom and Amen!

 

Scripture: Mark 1:14-20

People Need God’s Vision!

“The Word of God was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” The people had no connection with God. Eli and his sons were the leaders of the people. But Eli’s sons were evil. They were crooks and cared nothing for God. Because their leaders were lost, the people of God were lost. They had no vision or direction in their lives.

It says, “the Word of God was rare.” It doesn’t mean God was not talking! So, God never intends to leave his people with no vision. And people were not listening to God’s Word. They were not looking for God’s vision. Eli’s sons were corrupt and cared nothing for God. And the people had followed them into sins and ignored God.

If the people of God have no vision, then they are lost. How they know what to do without vision from God? How can a servant do the master’s will if he will not listen to the commands the master is giving?

People with no vision are like a group of blind people trying to lead one another. Jesus talked about the blind leading the blind. I have seen this on the street in Denver. The woman had her hand on the man’s arm and he was leading her. But he had a seeing eye dog to lead him.

People are spiritually blind. People need divine vision to give them direction. People needs God’s vision just like that blind couple needed the dog’s vision to guide them. If there is no vision - the people are lost. They will not arrive the dream destination. They will fall in a ditch on the way.

 

 

IMG_5870.JPG

 

It was not God’s fault the Word of God was rare and the people had no vision. It was the fault of the leaders. God didn’t want to leave his people in darkness, so God called a prophet for his people. And God decided to find someone who could receive the guidance and the vision.

So, there was Samuel! Asleep in the temple. His job was to attend to the light that burned in the temple. That light was kept burning in darkness to remind people of the presence of God in that holy place.

Then God called “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel heard the voice but he did not know it was God calling him. He thought it was Eli. He went to Eli, but Eli told him it was not him; to go back to bed. Again, the voice came, “Samuel!” Samuel ran to Eli and Eli again told him to lie down. A third time it called and Samuel ran to Eli again.

Eli realized it was God calling. When God calls a leader, God does not expect that person to be passive. God requires a response. So, Eli told Samuel to go back to bed. And if the voice come again - he should respond. Again, God called Samuel. And this time Samuel responded, “Lord, speak for your servant is listening.”

We live in an era the Word of God is rare! People are lost. They have no sense of direction. They seek hopeless after wealth or power. They chase the pleasures of the world. All in an attempt to find something with some meaning or value. And when they can’t, they try to lose themselves in drugs and sin and death.

So, without the Word of God - we are incomplete. Genesis says God created the first human. God formed the human out of the dust of the earth then God breathed life into it. So, human beings are basically the dust of the earth made alive by the breath of God.

God is speaking and some have listened. God has given us vision to follow. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a vision. He had a dream of a world where people are judged by the content of their character and not, the color of their skin. That dream has not been fully realized yet. We have come a long way, but we have not arrived yet.

Where would we be without the vision of Christ or Martin Luther or John Wesley or Martin Luther King, Jr. We would be lost! We would be like the people in Samuel’s day. Do you see what I mean?

We need God’s vision. God never leave us visionless. God walks with us around in the dark. God is calling people to be leaders. But they need other people to help them hear that call.

God is calling all people into ministry. We are here in the temple of God. The lights are burning! God calls, “Eaton UMC! Eaton UMC!” Will we respond, or will we ignore and go back to sleep. Again, God calls, “Eaton UMC! Eaton UMC!” Join me and together we will say, “Lord, speak your servant is listening!” Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Looking the Right Way!

Two astronomers were up all night studying the stars. One saw the brilliant colors of the sunrise said, “God paints a pretty picture.” The other one said, “What do you mean ‘God paints a pretty picture?’ That’s nothing more than the rays of the sun being refracted and reflected off cloud producing a distortion of the wavelengths.”

The first one said, “I know that! I can even identify the exact cloud formations produce each color. I can draw the process of fusion produces the light. So, when I see a sunrise like this - I still see the hand of God in it.” The skeptic replied, “Well, how come I look at the same sunrise and not see the hand of God?” The first one said, “You’re not looking in the right way.”

People are hard headed. Most people are like the skeptic one. He was looking right at the hand of God at work and he couldn’t see it. He couldn’t see the hand of God because he was not looking the right way.

The story is about an old woman and an old man who were both very devout and faithful people. They were led by the Holy Spirit to proclaim baby Jesus as the Messiah.

So, that is the story we have all heard from childhood. We were brought up hearing Jesus came as a baby. It’s not surprising when Simeon picked up Jesus and blessed him, or Anna ran about telling people the Messiah had come.

 

 

fullsizeoutput_14b26.jpeg

 

But that was not the way people were expecting the Messiah to come. They weren’t looking for the Messiah as a baby. They expected the Messiah to come in clouds of glory. They expected the heavens torn open and the Son of Man to descend with armies of angels.

They expected the Messiah to sit on a throne - to be a king who would liberate Israel from foreign rule.

They didn’t expect the Messiah to come softly in the night and born in a manger. It’s not what they had been told. They thought the whole world would see the Messiah’s coming. Instead, only few shepherds did.

Many saw Jesus didn’t know he was the Messiah. They had it all figured out the Messiah would come in clouds of glory. They didn’t see God’s hands in Jesus’ birth because they weren’t looking in the right way.

These expectations made it harder for faithful people to see clearly. Mary didn’t understand what was going on. She was only one who likely to see these events clearly.

Angel Gabriel had appeared to her. She “pondered these things in her heart.” She didn’t fully understand.

Simeon and Anna were no different. Like others, they expected the Messiah to come in clouds of glory.

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him he would not die before the Messiah come. So, year after year he came to the temple expecting to see the Messiah. He imagined the Messiah was coming out of the heavens and descending into the Holy of Hollies.

So, when the Messiah came - he came out just like anyone else. Instead of ending up at the Holy of Hollies - he was at the place where infants were purified.

So, Simeon and Anna had seen hundreds of children came through the temple to be purified. They knew Jesus was different. The Spirit revealed to them this child was the Savior of the world.

People saw Jesus brought into the temple. They didn’t see him as Messiah because they weren’t looking in the right way. Anna and Simeon were able to see the hands of God at work in that common everyday event.

People expect to see God in extraordinary events. They expect to see God in miracles. They expect to meet Christ at special times of the year. They think Christmas time is a special time they’re likely to meet Jesus.

But when Christmas is over many people are upset. The specialness of the season is past. So, there are over 300 days before it comes again. The special time to remember the Messiah is over. They think their chance to see God at work in their lives is passed for another year.

But I have good news! Jesus is here. God’s hand is at work in our lives. Jesus is with us. We can see God’s hand at work in everyday events with the eyes of faith.

We have to be like Anna and Simeon. We expect to see the Messiah. And if we meet with that expectation - then the presence of God will be revealed to us just as it was to Anna and Simeon. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Luke 2:22-40

Where to We Begin?

Are you ready for Christmas? If you have finished your Christmas shopping raise your hands. If you’re only half finished. If you haven’t even begun. The stores are a mad house, aren’t they? People running here and there. Buying this and that. Traffic everywhere. Those huge parking lots that are always half empty are full.

How about the decorating? Everyone who has their tree raise your hands. Is it decorated? Who isn’t even going to bother with one? How many people have mailed their Christmas card? How many people have already wrapped their presents?

There is so much to do to get ready for Christmas. It is such a huge task. Where do you start? The tree, the gifts, the parties, the cards! Mark the Gospel writer, faced a similar dilemma. He had a huge task before him. God had inspired him to write the story of Jesus’ life.

Where do you begin to tell of Jesus’s story? There were the miracles, the teachings, the sayings, and the selfless acts of love. Matthew and Luke started with Jesus’ lineage and birth. John went all the way back before creation. But Mark began with John the Baptist.

IMG_3293.JPG

Mark the Gospel writer, faced a similar dilemma. He had a huge task before him. God had inspired him to write the story of Jesus’ life.

John was a voice in the wilderness crying, “Get ready for the King is coming.” He told the people to straighten out their lives so Christ could enter their hearts. People came from all over to hear him and responded.

Prostitutes, thieves, tax collectors and many others confessed their sins. They repented and vowed to turn from their wicked ways. John said, “I have baptized you with water. But the one who comes after me is so much greater. He will baptize you with the fire and Holy Spirit.”

We should begin where Mark begins his Gospel. By hearing a voice in the wilderness of Christmas lights, mall traffic, and rushing shoppers. A voice that cries, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist calls us to prepare our hearts for Christ’s arrival. We should confess our sins and repent by turning from our sinful habits. We should straighten out our lives and get right with God.

If you have never repented of your sin, now is the time. If you have never asked Jesus into your heart, do it now. Just say, “Jesus I am a sinner, come into my heart and be my Lord.” You will be ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth. You will be ready to celebrate when he comes again.

You may have asked Jesus in your heart years ago. But God always has a new depth of mercy and grace for us to experience in Christ. Ask Jesus to open up new spiritual depths in your life. Dedicate yourself to serve Christ. Get ready to experience God’s love in new ways.

At this time of the year, we all have an opportunity to feel closer to God. Do you want to feel closer to God? Do you want to know the real Joy of Christmas? The Joy of Christmas is not found in the hustle and bustle of material preparations. It is the Joy of knowing that God has sent a Savior. That your Savior has come and is coming again.

Get your hearts in order. Admit your need for forgiveness and your need for a Savior. Confess and repent. Then you will be ready to celebrate. Your hearts will be ready. And he will cover you and fill you with his holy presence. And Christ’s spirit will live in you.

Come to Christ. Repent and confess. Ask God to show you a new depth of his mercy. The malls and stores are full of people preparing for Christmas. The churches should be crowded with joyful people.

If you have never given your life to Christ, do that now. Christmas will catch you unprepared and you miss its real Joy! If you’re Christian, then seek to know Christ in a deeper way in this Christmas season.

John had baptized the people and said, “I have baptized you with water but the one who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” I am sure most of the people whom John baptized were moved. Many had just been freed from sins and they felt the peace of love.

If you make Jesus a priority in your Christmas preparations he will do more. He will fill your soul with his love and peace. You will know the Joy of Christmas in a way you have never known it before.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He will come and fill your hearts with his love and joy. Shalom and Amen! 

Scripture: Mark 1:1-8

 

Let’s Do Something!

Jesus healed the sick, loved the unloved, ate with sinners and told them of God’s holiness. He brought good news and freedom to the poor and oppressed. And he died to bring forgiveness to the sinners of the world.

A Thankful Heart!

One day, Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. We know the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along. From the Jewish view the Samaritans had forgotten their heritage. Their ancestors had stopped worshipping in Jerusalem and started worshipping in the mountains of the northern kingdom.

Their ancestors had stopped following the lines of David and had separated and formed their own country. They didn’t like being looked down on by the Jews. They had done the best trying to stay true to their faith.

So, this was a tricky country to go through. In this border 10 lepers came and stood off at a distance shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Leprosy in that day was worse than a death sentence. Any number of skin diseases could be classified as leprosy.

Some were serious and others so irritating. Lepers were required to stay away from people and announce their presence at a distance. And people could not come in contact with them. So, they apparently had heard of Jesus and thought he could heal them.

Sometimes Jesus would really touch the untouchables of his day to heal them. But he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” A leper could be confirmed “cured” if the priests inspected him and found no sign of leprosy. Then he could go through a cleansing ritual and return to his family and community.

It must have been a moment of shock and joy! They were cured! They could return to their families and community. So, they ran to the priests, but one turned back to Jesus and thank him. And he was a Samaritan. Now ten lepers were a mixture of Jews and Samaritans.

Their common trouble brought them together to help one another. When Jesus saw the man he said, “Weren’t there nine of you but only this Samaritan gave thanks. “Go, your faith has made you well.”

IMG_4843.jpg

 

Thanksgiving is about a diverse inclusive group of people gathering together out of a spirit of true thankfulness.

What was this man thinking? Think about it. The man who healed you said, ”Go to the priests.” And the healing happened on the way to the priests. What if going in the other direction to return to Jesus undid the healing? Go see the priests first, then you can find Jesus to thank him.

What was this Samaritan thinking? He was stunned by thankfulness that he did not think it through. He just ran to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank him. True thanksgiving springs up from within us. It makes us to praise God. It drives us to fall at Jesus’ feet and give thanks.

That is what Thanksgiving is all about. It is about a diverse inclusive group of people, different in many ways, gathering together out of a spirit of true thankfulness. The Puritans had suffered greatly in the New World. Many of them had died. But the Native Americans had shown them how to farm this new land. They were able to grow enough food over the next winter.

These Native American were different. They looked different, talked different, dressed different, and even worshipped different. I am sure the Native Americans were concerned at first. Here these noisy, smelly, oddly dressed people show up and begin clearing their hunting grounds. But they saw their difficulty and reached out to this group of religious refugees and helped them.

They gave thanks. They both faced a long New England winter and the harvest had provided for their needs. They might have questioned if they thanked the same God. They both gave thanks and feasted. So, the gratitude overflowed their hearts.

Are we thankful? Like the lepers we have been cleansed. Jesus has redeemed us and brought us into a relationship with God through him. And we can know true community and love.

Like the Pilgrims and Native Americans, God has provided for our needs. There is plenty of food and medicine to go around in this world. Most of us will probably eat too much this Thursday. So, we have grace and peace and love and community.

Are you thankful? If you are thankful and you know it - clap “your hands.” If you are thankful and you know it - praise the lord “Amen.” If you are thankful - then your face will surely show it. If you are truly thankful - then your heart will overflow with gratitude. My hope and prayer that all of you will experience that joy of gratitude this Thanksgiving. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Luke 17:11-19

 

Go Buy Some Oil Now! 

Can I borrow a cup of sugar? No one borrows a cup of sugar any more. But there are times we need to borrow something. Circumstances change sometimes, and we need to borrow a car or a TV or a telephone.

I remember the years Sione was still in seminary. We were living in an apartment. We didn’t have a cable TV. Well the Broncos game was on a cable channel. When Sione wanted to watch the game, he went to our next-door neighbor, who was also a seminary student and who had cable. So, he borrowed his living room for an afternoon to watch the game on his TV.

But there are some things you just can’t borrow because they can’t be exchanged from one person to another. You can’t borrow love. That is something which has to come from one’s own heart. You can’t borrow a good relationship. That is something you have to develop on your own. And you can’t borrow faith. No matter what the circumstances and no matter how much others would like to loan you these things they just cannot be loaned from one person to another.

Jesus’ disciples asked him, “When will we know that the end of the world is coming?” Jesus’ response goes on for two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. About half way through Jesus tells a parable about borrowing. There was a girl who had asked 10 of her friends to be bridesmaids for her wedding. Five of these bridesmaids were wise and five were foolish. The five wise ones knew that the groom was coming from a long way and could arrive at any time of the day or night. So, they brought enough oil to see them through to the time when the groom would come.

The five foolish ones did not. They worried over their hair and their dresses and who they were going to dance with at the reception. But they didn’t think about the oil for their lamps. So, they didn’t bring enough.

It just happened that the groom was delayed. They all slept and at midnight the call came that the groom was at the gate of town and he would be there any minute. The foolish bridesmaids realized their lamps were running out so they turned to the wise ones and said, “Can we borrow a cup of oil?” The wise ones said, “If we loan you some, then we will both run out.” You had better run to the store and buy some before the groom gets here. So, they ran to get some and the groom arrived. By the time they got back the doors were closed and they were left out.

So, why couldn’t someone who was not in the wedding party go and get the oil for them? Why couldn’t they get into the party after the door had been closed? In the parables a wedding is a symbol of the coming of the Kingdom or the second coming. The groom is Jesus and the bride is the church. The bridesmaids here represent the individual believers who are waiting for Jesus to return and be finally untied with the church.

So, the oil is more than just oil. You see oil is what makes the flame burn in a lamp. Without oil there is no light to shine in the darkness. The oil represents faith, or the Holy Spirit, or a vital relationship with God. Whichever it is, it is that thing in a believer that makes the light of God shine in their lives through dark times. We don’t know when dark times are coming. We all need to have a strong faith relationship with God.

The problem is many Christians don’t develop a deep faith. They maintain a shallow supply of faith just enough to see them through the everyday troubles. Then a disaster strikes. Someone dies or an illness shocks them. When that happens, it is too late to develop faith. In the midst of a crisis it is the time we try to learn how to depend on God.

And you can’t borrow soul oil. You can get help from a Christian friend, but you can’t borrow their faith. A vital relationship with God is something you have to develop on your own. So, go buy some oil today! Start making daily conversations with God a part of your life. Study God’s word and deepen your faith. Humble yourself in service to others so that you can participate in God’s love.

Seek justice and love mercy and question your cherished assumptions so you can grow. You never know when darkness will come. If you want to be able to shine some light in the darkness of your life, get to know Jesus while it is still light. Then you will recognize Jesus when the darkness comes. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus is the Reformer!

John Wesley believed that Salvation is a gift from God. It is not something we achieve on our own. John realized that he was trying to make himself righteous and worthy of God’s love. While at a prayer service with Moravians, his heart was “strangely warmed.” He realized that God loved him and that was a gift of grace.

John rose at 4:00 am to study, pray, and preached to the crowds and helped the needy. He did them out of a love and thankfulness to God. He did not do it in as an attempt to save himself.

He taught people that being a Christian was not about being in church occasionally, but living the Christian life on a daily basis. He taught people to read their Bibles. He preached to the people and sent them out to preach in the streets and the fields. And in the end, he founded a new branch in the Protestant church: the Methodists.

In our Gospel lesson, the religious leaders and bodies of Jesus’ day had grown corrupt. The Scribes, Pharisees, and the religious leaders used religion for their own gain. They read and taught the Scriptures, but they violated the spirit of the law by their actions. Instead of helping people to live righteously, they placed burdens upon them. Instead of using their positions to teach others, they used them to gain benefit for themselves.

Jesus called attention to their hypocrisy. Jesus told his followers to listen to what the religious leaders had to say. After all they were following in the footsteps of Moses. But they should not follow the example of the religious leaders. They are to practice what they preach.

Jesus’ followers live by a different standard. The religious leaders lived by the standard that says that being looked up to by others is what is important. A standard which says you should look out for number 1 - be the king of the hill. But Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”

It seems to me that the church has the same problems way back in Jesus’ day and today. People in positions of leadership allow the power they have to go to their heads. They seek the praise of people instead of trying to be servants of God. They accept bribes of cash for religious. They allow the comfort of their positions to calm them into laziness. It is all about using positions of power for their own benefits.

That still happens in the church today. People seek positions of leadership today in churches for reasons of personal gain sometimes. Perhaps they seek them for reasons of sincere faith. When they are in those positions they become corrupted. Instead of seeking to use their office to serve God - they seek to serve themselves.

I’m not talking just for bishops and denominational presidents and senior pastors of large congregations. Sometimes people want positions in the church so that they can be looked up to.

“Lay Leader” or “Chair” of this or that committee or “Sunday School Teacher” or any positions can be meaning either service or privilege. As Christians - don’t we all at times fall into the trap of exalting ourselves.

We like people admitting we are “Good Christians.” We can fall into that trap. We build sanctuaries to worship God in or is it to show off how nice our church is? We built steeples to hold up the cross for all to see or is it to say we have the tallest steeple in town? Or perhaps we do the right thing for the right reason initially, but then we puff out our chests and say “Look what I have done.”

Maybe the reformation began 2000 years ago when Jesus said “the first shall be last” and “those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” Maybe the reformation did not begin on a piece of paper nailed to a church door by Martin Luther, but in the hearts of believers. Maybe “Reformation Sunday” should not be about the history of the Protestant church. Maybe it is really about people like Luther and Wesley and you and me having our hearts strangely warmed by the love and grace of God.

When I thought about writing this sermon, I said I should end with where the church needs reforming today. I thought I would outline my 95 theses and nail them to the front door of the church. But I only have one thesis for reforming the church today and I didn’t even write it.

Jesus said, “whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) That is where all reformation needs to begin. It begins in the hearts of believers who humble themselves to serve God and their neighbor. Would you care to start a reformation today? Then start here. (heart.) Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12

You Are Blessed!

Jesus gathered his disciples and began going around preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is just around the corner. People came out to see and hear Jesus. So, Jesus got up and spoke to the people.

He said, “God blesses the poor in spirit.” The Kingdom belongs to them. God blesses those who are concerned about the state of the world. God will bless them. God blesses the gentle. They will receive all they have not demanded. God blesses those who deeply want to please God. God will satisfy them.

God blesses those who care for others. God will take care of them. God blesses those hearts are focused on God. They will know God! God blesses those who build bridges. They are doing God’s work. God blesses those who face troubles for doing right. They belong to God.

God blesses you when people talk bad about you, and undermine you, and punish you unjustly because of me. Don’t feel bad, but be glad when that happens. God will reward you. You’re in good company.

Jesus is speaking to the people who believe in him. He has been telling them that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. He is telling them what impact the Kingdom will have on them. They will be blessed!

Blessed by whom? By God! Because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God blesses those who are poor in spirit, and merciful and etc.

Those who are poor have no money or power to trust in, so they trust in God. Like the widow who put her trust in God. So, the “Poor in Spirit” are those who have put their full trust in God and not in Earthly things.

Blessed are those who mourn. This mourning could be for the state of the world. It may not be just for our own hurts but for injuries and pain experienced by others. Blessed are the meek. “Meek” does not mean they don’t stand up for themselves. It means that they are gentle.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These are the people who truly seek to know God. “Blessed are the merciful.” God is merciful and these are those who seek to show mercy to others.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” Those who are single-mindedly focused on God and the Kingdom. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Those who try to bring people together instead of tearing them apart.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for honesty.” At times the coming of the reign of God in people’s lives leads to persecution. God blesses those who suffer such.

Because all good people are blessed. Then comes the last blessing. It sounds like an extension of the blessing, blessed are the persecuted. But it is different, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.” It is not just unnamed people out there somewhere, but those looking into Jesus’ eyes are blessed.

Have you ever put your whole trust in God like someone who has no hope? You are blessed. Have you ever been concerned for the state of our society or the world? You are blessed. Have you ever put someone else’s needs before your own? You are blessed. Have you ever yearned to have a closer walk with Jesus? You are blessed.

Have you ever tried to show God’s forgiveness to others? You are blessed. Have you ever tried to live for God and God alone? You are blessed. Have you ever tried to bring people together? You are blessed. Have you ever been called names, mocked at or ignored because of your faith? You are blessed. The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Jesus is here with us. And all who serve him are blessed.

Revelation is really a message of hope given to the church in the midst of persecution. As the early church was being persecuted, Revelation gave them hope. As Christians were being taken off to prison, or killed for practicing their faith - Revelation told them to stand firm because in the end good would prevail.

This is a message of hope in the midst of troubles. A message of hope no matter how bad things happened - God was with them.

We celebrate “All Saints Day.” The word “saint” means anyone who has been saved. If you have given your life to Christ then you are saved and you are a saint. The Kingdom of Heaven is closer than it has ever been. You are blessed! Shalom and Amen!

 

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

 

Give to God What Belongs To God!

Jesus taught his disciple to beware of the Pharisees. Their blindness led others astray. Instead of serving God, they served themselves. Instead of helping the needy, they fed off of orphans and widows.

So, the Pharisees decided to test Jesus. They came to him pretending to ask a sincere question of faith. “Should we pay taxes to the Romans?” The question was real. The Romans were unjust and their government enslaved people. Should God’s people support such a government?

Jesus saw right through their question was a trap. No matter what he did they would get him. If he said they should not pay taxes, they would go to the Romans and have him arrested for treason. If he said they should pay taxes, they could use that against him. They could say he did not have enough faith in God. He was more than a tax collector in religious clothing.

Jesus turned the question back on them. “Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” It was a Roman coin with the name and image of the emperor on it. So, Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

Everyone repeat after me: “Give to God - the things that are God’s.” The religious leaders were not giving God what belongs to God. They were serving themselves.

“Then what is due to God?” God is due one tenth of our income. In other words, we should tithe a tenth of the money we make to the church. That tenth or tithe belongs to God. Give to God the tithe that is God’s!

Give to God the things that are God’s. Did you know the Pharisees tithed? In fact, they were probably the best tithers among God’s people. Jesus said they even tithed mint and dill and cumin. (Matthew 23:23).

The Pharisees were good tithers. Jesus told them they still needed to give to God the things that are God’s. Jesus was not talking about tithing.

You should tithe, but ultimately this passage is not about something as meaningless as money. Coins and taxes are involved in the story, but in the end Jesus is talking about much more than money. If we are to give to God things that are God’s, we would give everything to God. I am not talking about money! I am talking about giving our entire lives to God.

Everybody take a deep breath with me: In… and out. God gave you that breath. Every single breath you take is a gift from God. Every breath we take is due to God. We should use every breath to serve God. We all woke up this morning, right? God gave us this day. If we give to God the things that are God’s, then this day should be devoted to serving God. When you wake up tomorrow, that day will be a gift from God and it should be given to God too.

Jesus says we should give to God the things that are God’s. Everything we do should be done for God. Our entire lives should be offered to God. Every breath and moment should be given to God. This is not about giving a tenth of your income to God. It is giving you entire life!

Stewardship is not about money. It is about giving your life to Christ. How much you pledge to the church next year will not change your standing before God. I don’t care if everybody in the church pledges to tithe or not. It would be nice though. What would really make me happy is if everyone in this church vowed to give to God every day and every breath to serve God. I assume that if we all did give ourselves totally to God, it would have an outcome on many things, including our offerings.

Christian stewardship is about recognizing everything we have is from God. We are called to use everything we have to serve God; our time and talents. Some churches ask congregants to turn in an estimate of the money they will give to the church and church will use those figures to create a budget for next year. That doesn’t matter. That is just a data. It is important how much money you give, but who you serve each day.

Jesus said “give to God the things that are God’s.” We have to give ourselves to God. Have you given your life to Christ? Have you pledged to live your life by Jesus’ example and with God’s help? If you haven’t, then forget about pledging or tithing or any of that stuff. That is not important for you. If you haven’t dedicated your life to following Christ, to living by his example, then do that today! If you have given your life to Christ, then dedicate everything you have to God’s service. Shalom and Amen!

God is So Good!

“God is great, God is good.” That is probably the first prayer that children have learned. It is a prayer that seems to stick with children. I remember one Sunday, Sione was doing a children’s sermon. The children were all sitting on the floor around him and, he gave them a little lesson. When he finished he said, ”Let’s say a prayer.” Before he said the prayer, a little girl blurted out: “God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread.”

We find that story funny. It seems so out of place to say grace or return thanks during a worship service. That poor little girl didn’t know it wasn’t the time nor the place for a blessing. Or was it? That little girl had been taught well to give thanks to God. She had learned that God is so good and we should give thanks to God for the gifts. By giving thanks, she was expressing her love and gratitude and heartfelt faith in God.

That little girl had already learned a lesson that many adults haven’t learned. God gave his only Son Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. That’s a great gift of a good God. How do we thank God for it? Many times, we forget to make Jesus a part of our lives beyond worship. Sometimes we return thanks by being disobedient to the will of God.

People in Bible times were no different than us. They know that God is so good. They like us they had experienced the amazing Grace of God. Like us they had heard the testimony of God’s goodness. They had even seen God’s mighty works. The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 78 know of God’s greatness and God’s goodness.

The Psalmist wrote about how the children of Israel had seen the miracles of God in Egypt. How God had brought the plagues upon the Egyptians. And how God had preserved the Israelites from those plagues. The Psalmist also tells how God delivered them through the Red Sea from the hands of the Egyptians. They had seen the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. They knew God was great because of those miracles.

They also knew that God was good. God had been so good enough to hear their cry in slavery and deliver them from bondage in Egypt. God could have left them there in slavery. Instead God chose to agree them. God had given them good gifts. He gave them bread from heaven to nourish their bodies. And water form rock to refresh them.

They didn’t give thanks for their food! Instead they complained. They complained that they would thirst to death in the wilderness. They said they wanted some meat to eat. Instead of giving thanks they rebelled against God.  Psalmist said, “They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what He had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”

So, what did God do? Well, God is good! God could have destroyed them. God could have left them in the desert to die of hunger and thirst. Instead God continued to feed them and save them. Instead of destroying them God made them prosper and grow. Instead of wiping their name from the pages of history, God made them a great people who still exist.

This is the mercy of God. Despite the untruthfulness of the people of Israel and their rebellion, God continued to bless them. This is a proof of the kind of God we worship and serve. We serve a God who gives us all that we need. Even when we fail to give God the glory for those gifts, God is still merciful and giving. God’s goodness was greater than their badness.

People haven’t changed much since then. God has given us great gifts. We live in a country of riches. Even the poor in our country have it better than some people in other countries. America throws away more food each day that is needed to feed the hunger. We are so blessed with freedoms not people in other parts of the world.

As Christians, we have been blessed with gifts that are even greater. The greatest of these gifts is Jesus, who came and died for our sins. We have been granted with the gift of forgiveness. We have been given the holy presence of God’s Spirit to sustain and guide us. We have been given the testimony of the Bible and the witness to reveal God’s will to us.

Like the Israelites we have forgotten what God has done for us. We fail to confess God as Lord over everything. I know a woman who inherit a house from her husband. She said the house was Jesus’ house and he just let her live there. People thought she was crazy, but she was right. All we have, even our breath, is a gift from God and we should thank God.

So, what does God do? Does God choose to destroy us and leave us to our own sin? No, excuse my English, but God is “gooder” than that. And thank God! We don't deserve the gifts we unthankfully receive. But that is how good God is!

That little girl was right! “God is great! God is good! Let us thank God for our food. By his hands we shall be fed. Give us Lord our daily bread.” Shalom and Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 78

Agree to Disagree! 

Once upon time, there were two pastors in a small town. The town had only two churches one on one end of town, and one on the other. One was Methodist and the other Presbyterian. The two pastors often argued over predestination and free will. The Presbyterian argued that God predestined everything because God was all-powerful and all knowing. The Methodist pastor always argued that God was also all loving and had given each of us a free will to make decision.

Despite their differences, they were friends and decided to exchange pulpits. So, on one Sunday morning the Methodist pastor left on horseback from his church to go preach at the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian pastor also left on horseback from his church to go to the Methodist Church. So, they met up in the middle of town.

They greeted one another. But the Presbyterian pastor said, “I want you to know it was predestined from the foundations of the world that I preach in your church today and you preach in mine.” The Methodist pastor just said, “O yeah” and turned around and went back.

Wherever two or more Christians are gathered - there will be a difference of opinion. We Christians have our disagreements from time to time. We have differences in theology or practice. One group feels things should be done one way - and another group feels they should be done another way. Sometimes it makes for good-natured humor. Sometimes it creates fighting and hurt feelings and divisions in the body of Christ.

John Wesley said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” So, disagreement within the body of Christ is necessary. Where we are if Martin Luther had not stood up against the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church of his day? And where we are if John Wesley had not stood up against the apathy of the Anglican Church of his day.

Tension between Christians is usual as we grow and try to remain faithful. But it need not rip us apart. There are some truths that we need to stick to, and there are some we can let go. But in all - we must live love.

When Paul was still around - there were no Christian denominations. There was one church. But there were still disagreements. The diversity in the early church was misunderstandings and disagreements. Some of the early Christians were raised Jewish. They were taught never to associate with Gentiles for fear of unclean. They were raised to keep the Sabbath holy and set apart and not to eat certain thing.

Some of the early Christians had grown up worshipping the Greek and Roman gods. They had grown up treating all days the same and eating whatever they wanted. They had an issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. In the ancient Gentile world, if you go to the meat shop, chances are the meat there had been sacrificed to idol. The Gentiles believe the god of idol entered the sacrifice and all who ate it. Good Jew didn’t agree with it.

So, there were disagreements with the early Christians about eating meat and which meat could be eaten and what days were more holy than others. Should the Gentile Christians keep the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays and should the Jewish Christians look down on the Gentiles if they didn’t? Should the Gentiles stop eating bacon for breakfast or should the Jews just lighten up? Should Christians stop eating all meat sacrificed to idols or should they do whatever they wanted?

Paul addresses this matter very simple - love. He says if someone who is weaker in the faith and has quirks about eating meat comes, then welcome them. Don’t make it your mission to convert him to your way of seeing the issue. He is obviously trying to serve God by abstaining from meat. And don’t let those who abstain look down on those who are not dedicated to making that sacrifice.

The same is true concerning keeping certain days holy like Sabbath. What matters is - that we are living for Christ. Paul advises the Romans not to argue and fight about those things. What is important is - that they love one another and try to serve the Lord. Agree to disagree!

Paul tells us not to fight. There is a balancing act going on here. There are certain things that are essential: “Love God and love your neighbor.” “Jesus is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world.”

But other things are not essential. Does our church have candles and stained-glass windows? Do we speak in tongues in our church or shout “Amen”? Do we sprinkle or immerse when doing baptism?

It is obvious that some of these things are not things that we should debate on. We should approach it just as Wesley did. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” And agree to disagree!

I know growing up in the Methodist Church I heard that over and over again. “It doesn’t matter what church we go to - just that we know the Lord.” Does that mean that we just ignore things that are wrong in other churches or our own? Do we just ignore - while other churches refuse to recognize that women are important part of the church? Do we just ignore - while churches condemn certain groups of people? Or when they are supporting lifestyles that are hurtful and sinful?

How do we deal with other Christians whose attitudes are so different from ours? Is it right to ignore them even though we believe they are hurting themselves and others? Of course not! We have a duty to tell them what we believe is right. But we must do so in love.

Paul knew what he was talking about. For essential things, he stood his ground and proclaimed the Gospel even though it got him beaten and stoned and eventually killed. But he always did it in love. Let us love one another and not judge one another. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Romans 14:1-12

Place Your Trust On Jesus! 

We all know about Joseph’s story. Joseph was loved by his parents. He was favored by God. But his brothers hated him. They hated him because God had given him gifts they didn’t have. They hated him because he was the baby and their Father had given him a fancy colorful coat.

Even though Joseph was favored by God - his life was not easy. His mother died in childbirth while his baby brother was being born. God had favored him with a gift of having and interpreting dreams. But his visions of the future just separated him from his brothers.

Finally, his brother’s anger against him boiled over. They decided to kill him. But later they changed plan and simply sold Joseph into slavery.

So, Joseph was a slave in a strange land. But God was with Joseph even in slavery. God blessed his work. Everything he did prospered. Soon he rose to be in charge of all the affairs of Pharaoh’s house.

And Joseph remained faithful to God. Once Pharaoh’s wife tried to seduce him, he resisted. She made it look like he had tried to take advantage of her. And Pharaoh had thrown him in jail.

But God was there even in jail. In jail, he won the trust of the jail keeper and soon he was in a position of authority within the jail. While in jail, he met Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. They had some strange dreams and Joseph used his God given ability to interpret them. According to Joseph’s interpretations one was set free and the other was executed.

At the palace, Pharaoh was having some disturbing dreams himself. In these dreams seven fat cows came out of the Nile and then seven thin cows. Then the thin cows ate the fat cows. These dreams so disturbed Pharaoh that he called all his magicians to interpret the dreams. But, they could not interpret it. Then Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him.

When Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, Joseph interpreted the dream. God was warning Pharaoh that there would be seven fat years of plenty and seven lean years of famine. So, for the next seven years of plenty Pharaoh should buy grain and then sell it during the years of famine. Pharaoh was so happy and he put Joseph in charge of this project.

It just happened that when the famine hit Egypt. It also hit Canaan where Joseph’s family was living. So, Israel sent his 10 oldest sons, the ones who had sold Joseph into slavery, to Egypt to buy grain. Now they had no way of knowing that Joseph was in charge of the grain they wanted to buy. In fact, when they appeared before him they didn’t recognize him. Joseph played a game of cat and mouse with them for a while.

Finally, when he could stand it no longer he revealed himself to them. What did he say to his long-lost brothers who had sold him into slavery? Did he rebuke them for their crimes against him? He was the Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He could have ordered them tortured.

Instead he threw his arms around their necks and wept for joy at seeing them again. What did he say about his situation? Did he blame his brothers for his slavery and imprisonment? Did he say, “If it weren’t for my brains and good looks I would still be a slave?” No, he said, “Don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives.” (Gen. 45:5)

Joseph had looked back and seen that this was God’s plan to place him in Pharaoh’s court so that his family and many others would be saved in that time of famine. God didn’t sell Joseph into slavery and God didn’t have Joseph thrown in jail.

Those were the acts of sinful people. God despised those evil acts. God despises all acts of evil. God was there with Joseph in the pit, in slavery, and in jail. And God manipulated all those circumstances to put Joseph where the Almighty’s plan said he should be.

The story of Joseph’s life is a story that is true to life. But its most important truth is in its message. “God cares for those who place their trust on high.”

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, God will be faithful to you. No matter what the situation is in your life, God is at work in it. If you have placed your trust in Jesus, then you shall be saved. Not just from the fires of hell, but from everything that isn’t a part of God’s plan for you.

Friends, you will still have troubles. You may find yourself in a pit, or in bondage, or imprisoned, just as Joseph did. But know this: God is there with you using those circumstances for your best good. Joseph placed his trust in God, and God saved him. And God will preserve you as well. Shalom and Amen!

Scripture: Genesis 45:1-15