Here Is Your Outline – Live It

Romans 12:9-21
Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord. Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable. Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you. Focus your thoughts on those things that are considered noble. As much as it is possible, live in peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge, dear friends. Instead, let God’s anger take care of it. After all, Scripture says, “I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back, says the Lord.” But, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will make him feel guilty and ashamed.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good.

Message: Here Is Your Outline – Live It

In the early days of manned space flight, I remember sitting glued to the television screen watching as NASA preparied for launch. One of the things that fascinated me was the pre-launch sequence. They would go through a checklist called the go no-go where they would call for a check of all of the various systems necessary for lunch. Each monitoring station would report with either a go or a no-go. If there was a no-go then they launch would be delayed until that issue was fixed. Only when they had a clear go, on all systems, would they be clear for launch.

Well, sure, if we are going to be flying way above the atmosphere, we would want to make sure that everything was in top shape and fully ready before we put our faith in this piece of machinery Right?
I mean, if things go wrong, the consequences could put our lives at risk.
Aren’t our lives at risk by the choices we make everyday? Hey! Just living is risking our lives.
But there is something even more important than our lives.This life is but a moment in time.We are like the grasses of the field that flower for a short time and then are cast into the fire.
How is it with your soul?We live in a world that is broken and if we are not careful it can cause cuts and bruises to our souls – that eternal part of us.We have our eternal life to guard. Fortunately we have this “Operator Manuel” that we call the Bible.And we need to read it through over and over and become familiar with what it has to say.
Bible study is like astronaut training. We have to become familiar with the strengths and weakness.Where to look for trouble spots and how to correct them.
You have probably seen a TV show or movie where some untrained person is suddenly put in the position where they have to land the plane. That only works in fiction.
My point here is the only way to be prepared is to prepare! If the only Bible you know is what I or someone else has told you, you are about as ready to live the Christian life as I am to pilot the Mars Lander. We need to be prepared by reading the Bible for ourselves.
I know, sometimes we look at the Bible and think, “I could never read all of that.”The truth is that it is really simple. Just like eating an elephant; you take one bite at a time. There are lots of good reading plans out there (check the internet) that break the Bible into daily “bite size” bits.
I used one from the Gideons, that was designed to let you read the whole Bible through in a year.The first time through, I’ll admit was just a – read and check it off my list as done – sort of reading. It wasn’t “study” as much as it was complete the task. Maybe that wasn’t the best attitude or the best reason, however it got me into the Word.
Since then, I have used study plans that concentrate on parts of the Bible such as the Letters of Paul, the Psalms, Proverbs, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
As you read, ask yourself questions such as; who, what, when, where, why, and how. Ask what did this mean to the people who were there? What does it mean to me now?
Maybe you can join a Bible study group where you can share questions and ideas with others. Studying with others is great, however, keep it mind that it is YOUR life that you are training for, so you must take the responsibility.
Maybe you can join a Bible study group where you can share questions and ideas with others.
So, after you are trained, you are now ready to fly!
A daily devotional time will help you to “top off your tank”.
A prayer will help to set your navigation – your flight plan for the day.
Now you are ready for the “Preflight Checklist”
Our reading from Romans lays out a plan for living almost like a “preflight checklist” for life. (You were probably wondering when we were going to get into the scriptures today!)
1. Be sincere in your love for others. CHECK
2. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. CHECK
3. Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. CHECK
4. Never give up. CHECK
5. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. CHECK
6. Let your hope make you glad. CHECK
7. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. CHECK
8. Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home. CHECK
9. Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them. CHECK
10. When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. CHECK
11. Be friendly with everyone. CHECK
12. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. CHECK
13. Make friends with ordinary people. CHECK
14. Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. CHECK
15. But try to earn the respect of others, CHECK
16. and do your best to live at peace with everyone. CHECK
17. Don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, “I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.” CHECK
18. “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty,
give them something to drink. CHECK
This will be the same as piling burning coals
on their heads.”

19 Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good. CHECK
Maybe we should go through this “preflight checklist” as we start each day. Imagine how different our day would be.
Also, remember that despite what a popular bumper-sticker says, Christ is the pilot – not our co-pilot. As a friend of mine has said, “If Christ is your co-pilot, you need to change seats.”
Amen.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011 Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Monday, August 15, 2011

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A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Matthew 20:1-6

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing to pay the workers the usual day’s wages, he sent them to work in his vineyard. About 9 a.m. he saw others standing in the marketplace without work. He said to them, ‘Work in my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and 3 p.m. and did the same thing. About 5 p.m. he went out and found some others standing around. He said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day long without work?’

A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus told stories about really “odd” farmers?
Maybe it is because I have grown up in the Midwest where agriculture is so important.Or maybe it is because of all those hours working in my mother’s half-acre garden.Or maybe it is because I worked on a dairy farm and for Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn. Whatever the reason, the stories that Jesus told about farming, always have seemed a little “off” to me.
Maybe it was because he was a carpenter and not a farmer. But then again, he had a pretty good grasp of fishing and shepherding. Those parables hold up very well with the realities of those professions.
However, these stories of farming? Well, here, let’s examine them for a minute.
He told a story about a farmer who scattered seeds on the path, amongst the rocks, and into the thorns. Now in that day and age, seed was precious. To have seed to plant, you had to save part of last year’s crop, which meant that you could not eat it when times got tough. If you consumed it all today, you would starve tomorrow.
Also the seed was scattered by hand as you walked through your field. You had precise control of where the seed landed. Why in the world would a farmer waste seed by throwing it where it had little or no chance of growing. That would be a very foolish or a very nearsighted farmer indeed who would waste his precious seeds.
Jesus also told the story about the farmer who had planted his crops and “an enemy” came and threw “weed seeds” in with his crop. Then he told his help not to pull the weeds because it would damage the crop. Certainly not what modern farming practice would dictate? The weeds would be using up vital nutrients that should be going to the crop.
A good farmer does everything he can to get the weeds out and keep them out. We use various methods to keep our crops clear of weeds. We hoe, pull, mulch and spray to control those weeds. When we see a field that is full of weeds, we tend to believe the farmer is lazy or does not care enough about his crops to protect them and keep them clean of weeds.
Now the part about an enemy who sewed weed seeds. Really? I can not imagine that happeing in modern times. Did “enemy farmers” actually resort to sabotage against their neighbors? I do not know for sure, however it seems unlikely.
For one thing, how much time did this enemy farmer spend harvesting weeds to gather those seeds. Did he intentionally not plant crops one year so that he could grow weeds? Seems pretty odd to me.
Then in today’s gospel reading we meet another peculiar farmer who has a vineyard. His grapes have grown. His vineyards have done very well indeed, what we would call a bumper crop and now it is time for the harvest.
His problem was that he had more work than he had workers.
The solution was simple enough, go into town and hire ‘day laborers’. And that’s what he did. He offered those that he found a fair wage for their day of labor and they accepted the contract without negotiation.
However, the landowner soon discovered that there was still more work than workers. So, back to town and hire more workers. He offered them the same contract as he had the first workers and again they accepted and went to work. Several times he did this right up until almost too dark to harvest.
In each case the farmer promised each group a “day’s wages”. A day’s wages means that each person received enough money to feed himself and family for the day.
Finally, the job was done and it was time to dole out the pay.
This is where the “blip” in this story starts. He pays everyone the same, no matter how long they worked. I wonder what union these folks belonged to?
Those that came latest were paid first. They took their wages and felt glad to be able to feed their families for another day.
At last it came time to pay those that were hired first. Well, understandably the ones that worked the longest were upset because they earned “only” the same as the people who worked the shorter day. That means that although the earned the same for the day, they made less per hour than the ones who came later in the day. They were upset.
Do you see what I mean, that none of these stories make sense? Not if you are actually thinking that they have anything to do with agriculture!
Of course, that is the point, they are not stories about farming.They are stories about the Kingdom of God.
When scattering the seed that is the Word of God, we are to be like the nearsighted farmer and scatter seed everywhere. We are to tell everyone about Jesus.
We understand that not everyone will listen – but we are not to prejudge them. Let God do that, it is His job.
Maybe He will spend some time cultivating the rocky ground and clearing the weeds, so that the next person who sews seeds of the Gospel of Christ will find good soil where the bad soil had been.
I, for one was a hard packed path on which nothing could grow. I heard the word, had seed scattered on me, countless times before it started to grow. Thank God that enough people were willing to cast seed in such an unlike spot as my soul.
And, of course, we are not to pull the weeds from the field. Again, that is God’s job to sort out the good from the bad.
Frankly, we would be very bad spiritual weed pullers. We can only see the past and the present. (Although sometimes we can’t see the present because it is hidden by our knowledge ot the past). So we make judgments without knowing the “rest of the story”. God can see clear to the end which makes him the only one who can determine whether it is a weed or valuable plant.
And, in today’s gospel reading, we understand that, while paying farm works a full day’s pay for an hour’s work makes little financial sense, if you realize that when “paying” workers in the Kingdom of God for bringing in souls, it makes sense.
The reward, life eternal, is the same regardless of when you enter into it.Nobody gets half of an eternal life, or a quarter, or and eighth.The reward is the same for all.
So it doesn’t make any difference when you started “working” for God – as a youngster, or as an oldster – the reward will be eternity with God.
Remember, when we work for God, the pay is always fair – and the retirement plan is unbeatable!
Praise God.Amen.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sin Happens – So Does Forgiveness

Matthew 18:15-20
“If a believer does something wrong, go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector. I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free. “I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it. Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them.”

Sin Happens

So Does Forgiveness

“Tell your brother that you are sorry!”
“But, Dad!”
“Tell him you are sorry!”
“Daddy, you don’t understand … “
“Tell him you are sorry!”
“I’ll say it – but I won’t mean it!”
Sound familiar?Which one are you in this little scenario?The one who doesn’t want to say, “Sorry”?The father who is looking to make peace between the “combatants” so that he can forgive them both?Maybe you are the third one in the story, the one who was wronged. Did you want to be forgiven if it meant you had to forgive also? Maybe, like me, you’ve been all three at different times.
What are we to do when a Christian does something – well – unchristian?
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Literally “Forgive our sins in the same way we forgive those who sin against us.” I’ll admit that I’ve choked on those words a couple of times in my life. I’ve started to say them – and then realized that there was someone I had not yet forgiven.
Why couldn’t we pray, “Forgive our sins even though we can’t/won’t/haven’t forgiven them”? Forgiveness is unnatural. We are all at the center of our own universe. Anything, that doesn’t go the way we want it, is a bad thing. Anybody who disagrees with us is a moron. People who try to stop us are bad people.
In Matthew 18:21 & 22 Peter asks Jesus just how many times hehas to forgive his brother or sister who sins against him. And then offers up an answer for himself that seemed extremely generous. “Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus lays out a plan of what to do if a Christian acts in an unchristian way toward you. Once you have tried every step, the last thing is to treat them as an unbeliever and a tax collecter. Now two things are important to understand here: One, this is not talking about the sin of non-believers; and two, being treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector is the LAST option in the list.
Let’s look at what Luke recorded in chapter 7: “Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will always be something that causes people to sin. But anyone who causes them to sin is in for trouble. A person who causes even one of my little followers to sin would be better off thrown into the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their neck. So be careful what you do.”
Okay, so here is what I understand this to mean to us.
Sin Happens!Make sure you don’t.Don’t lead others into sin!If you do sin, Get right with God – Quick!Do your best to lead sinners back to God.
In Luke chapter 17:3-4 it says, “Correct any followers of mine who sin, and forgive the ones who say they are sorry Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, “I am sorry,” you should still forgive that person.”
Forgive, Forgive, Forgive! That is what the good news is all about. Right?
Jesus came to forgive us and expects us to forgive each other. Man! That is so hard sometimes! At least we have a plan to follow. Jesus gives instructions what to do if one of his followers sins against another, “Go and point out what was wrong.” Don’t wait. Don’t let it fester and grow. Go now! But do it in private, just between the two of you. Don’t go to a third party and start gossiping about the problem. I know, that it is easier to complain than it is to forgive. However, that is NOT the Christian way to handle it.
If that person who wronged you listens, you have won back a follower.
Woo Hoo! Yea!
But we know that system doesn’t always work. Right? So here is what to do if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. No! They’re not your “muscle”.
The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. Plus where two or more believers are gathered, God is there also.
But what If the follower still refuses to listen to them? Report the matter to the church.
Do you notice the progression here? We start off one-to-one, then bring in a few more, now we bring in the whole body of believers.
Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
That sounds bad – doesn’t it So … that’s it? We give up on them? No! There DOES come a time when we have to do MORE than forgive, not LESS. We need to treat our brother or sister like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
How did Jesus treat unbelievers and tax collectors?
He actively sought them out. He went into their homes. He ate with them. He healed them. He prayed with and for them. He befriended them. He sought to bring them into the Kingdom of God.
Can we do any less?
Chances are that sometime in the last few minutes, while we talked about forgiveness, we have thought of someone whom we have not forgiven. Or maybe we’ve thought of someone who hasn’t forgiven us.
We need to pray for that relationship because our relationship with each other can interfere with having a strong relationship with God. Then we need to actively seek to mend it. Forgive as you have been forgiven.
Amen!
©Thomas E Williams 2011

Originally published Monday, August 15, 2011

What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

Matthew 15:10-20
Then he called the crowd and said to them, “Listen and try to understand! What goes into a person’s mouth doesn’t make him unclean. It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you realize that when the Pharisees heard your statement they were offended?” He answered, “Any plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone! They are blind leaders. When one blind person leads another, both will fall into the same pit.” Peter said to him, “Explain this illustration to us.” Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you know that whatever goes into the mouth goes into the stomach and then into a toilet? But whatever goes out of the mouth comes from within, and that’s what makes a person unclean. Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, other sexual sins, stealing, lying, and cursing come from within. These are the things that make a person unclean. But eating without washing one’s hands doesn’t make a person unclean.”

I can hear my mother calling me, “Tom, time to eat. Go wash your hands.”

I’d come in from playing – climbing trees, playing soldier (which meant getting ‘shot’ and rolling down the hill) and most likely I’d been catching grasshoppers or toads or snakes.So in I come and dip my hands into water and dry off on a towel.

“No, go back and use soap!” Mom would scold. Funny, MY kids were the same way; always in too much of a hurry to ‘scrub’ away the dirt before coming to the table.
Parents are always concerned with what goes into their kids’ mouths. “Get that out of your mouth.You don’t know where that has been!”
We are concerned about cleanliness because we are concerned for their health and well being. We are also concerned about what comes out of their mouths What are we teaching them – by word and by example?
“What did you say, young man! Don’t make me wash your mouth out with soap!” Yes, I’ve had my mouth washed out with soap!And I’ve washed my son’s mouth out with soap.
Oh, I wish it were really that easy to cleanse the heart. Here Jesus called the crowd and said to them, “Listen and try to understand! What goes into a person’s mouth doesn’t make him unclean.It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.”
This is one of the most straight-forward statements Jesus ever made. No parable was needed to make this point. He just says, “Listen up! What you eat will not harm you as much as what you say!” No further explanation should be needed. Right?
But then the disciples said to him, “Do you realize that when the Pharisees heard your statement they were offended?” Yes, the Pharisees were offended. Jesus had, once again, dismissed one of the Mosaic laws of cleanliness. Or at least that is what they heard. They had a scroll full of things that could make a person unclean! Who was this Jesus to come along and say that eating unclean animals, like pork, would not make you unclean!
Jesus didn’t actually say that we should not wash our hands before we eat or that it was okay to eat just anything that we picked up off the ground (no 7 second rule here). He was trying to get the point across that what we say (and by extension what we think) can have far more impact on our lives than a little dirt eaten with our lunch.
I’ve often been amazed at the number of times it is recorded that there was such a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Because, of the various sects of Judaism, the Pharisees were closest to teaching the same things that Jesus taught. In Matthew 23:3 Jesus even tells his listeners, “So be careful to do everything they tell you.” However, He quickly adds, “But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach.”
I have four children with very different personalities. My oldest son would never argue with me. I’d tell him to do something and he say, “Okay.” He wouldn’t do it – but he didn’t argue. My oldest daughter would argue with me. I’d tell her what to do and she’d give me 50 reasons that it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Then she’d go do it.
Which is better? To argue and obey? Or to agree and disobey?

Here, Jesus was saying that the Pharisees did not argue with the commands of God, but they did not follow them.

Here is what Jesus said about the Pharisees in today’s reading, “Any plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. So, leave them alone! They are blind leaders. When one blind person leads another, both will fall into the same pit.”Finally! A parable! I imagine Peter has been sitting on his hands, bouncing in his seat just waiting for a parable so he can say, “Explain this illustration to us.”

Finally! A parable! I imagine Peter has been sitting on his hands, bouncing in his seat just waiting for a parable so he can say, “Explain this illustration to us.”

To this Jesus said, “Seriously, Peter? Don’t you understand yet? Okay, I’ll be a little more graphic for you. Don’t you know that whatever goes into the mouth goes into the stomach and then into a toilet?
Listen, whatever goes out of the mouth comes from within. It shows what kind of a person you truly are and that’s what makes a person unclean. Here are examples of the unclean things that I’m talking about, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, other sexual sins, stealing, lying, and cursing. These are the things that make a person unclean, Jesus said.
I praise God that Jesus’ blood can wash away these impurities that make us spiritually unclean. Without His grace we could never stand in the presence of the Father. Our sins would keep us forever separated from the holiness of God. But because He paid the price of our sins, God no longer sees them. So we can come to God any time any place – even if we have dirt under our fingernails.

Glory to God. Amen.

©Thomas E Williams 2011

Originally published Monday, August 15, 2011

“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say you are John the Baptizer, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Jesus replied, “Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! No human revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you. You are Peter, and I can guarantee that on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.” Then he strictly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

That is THE BIG QUESTION – isn’t it?
When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”

The disciples, who would have done some shopping at the local shopping mall, and maybe stopped in at Floyd’s barbershop, would have picked up on the local gossip – what people were saying about Jesus behind His back.
This was the information Jesus was looking for; who did the shop keepers, the mothers with small children, the subsistence farmers and fishermen.What was the buzz among these people? What did National Inquirer have to say about Him?
The religious leaders knew who He was, He was a trouble maker. He was someone cutting in on their power – their interpretation of God’s word. There was no mystery as to what they were saying about Jesus. They wanted Him gone – the quicker the better.
However, it was important for Jesus to know if the general populace was catching on to the message He was giving. Were the people preparing for the messiah? So He asked His disciples.
The disciples replied,”Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Humm … interesting that they thought some long-dead prophet had returned to life.
So, most people still had not realized just who it was that walked among them. Who it was that fed them – spiritually and physically. They realized that He was a man of God. But they had not yet realized He was the God of Man.
Now Jesus put His disciples on the spot by asking, “And how about you, guys? Who am I to you?”
These were His hand picked disciples to whom He was speaking. They had not only seen the public miracles they had also seen “behind the curtain” – so to speak. They had heard the public teachings and also had Him give them private instruction.
Now he asked that big question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter spoke first. Now I have to admit that I am a bit like Peter – never one to hold back with an opinion or observation – here he jumped in with both feet and his mouth open.
“Dude, You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus came back with a verbal hug when he said, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.
For all his brashness and for all his impulsiveness, Peter was in tune with God. The answer came so quickly to his lips, that Jesus knew where the answer came from.
I heard a street preacher from Baton Rouge say that a woman approached him one day a say that she KNEW he was telling the truth – ‘cause nobody could lie that quick! There is a truth in what that woman was saying. It is easier and quicker to speak the truth than to think up the lie.
Hang on to your seats because, here comes a change or direction. Jesus had been asking “Who do people say that I am?”Now he tells Peter, “I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock.”
I like the fact that Jesus was praising Peter here. Along with a pat on the head, he gets a new name. He looked into Peter’s life and saw not the fisherman, not the quick tempered, not the denier, but He saw the man of God that Peter would become.
I have been told that Jesus was doing a play on words here. That Peter’s original name meant pebble and that by calling him Peter, he was literally calling him Rock.
Now I don’t read Aramaic so I can’t personally verify that story – but I like it. I know from reading the stories He told, that Jesus had an amazing sense of humor and anyone who can come up with a quick pun is my hero.
Anyway, So Jesus is now saying that Peter has grown from a pebble to a rock. And He has a job for this rock to do.
Here He says, “This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”
Did you catch that part when we read the scripture?
We, His church, can attack the gates of Hell. When I was younger, I thought that Christianity was purely a “defensive” religion. That is, we are protected by God by our belief. And we are. However, we are also to be an army that “attacks” evil, even the gates of Hell.
Jesus now says, “And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
Wow! No more barriers! Remember that Jesus was talking to a conquered people who lived under the rule of Rome. Think what these simple words meant to them. He told this powerless person, “You have the power!”
We, who have been captives of sin, we have the power! We aren’t just freed from sin, we are given the power to attack evil. Let’s be on the offensive!
Next Jesus did something that I don’t truly understand, He swore the disciples to secrecy. He made them promise they would tell no one that he was the Messiah.
For a long time I thought that was to protect Himself. Remember, He already had people in authority, trying to capture or kill him.
Now, I wonder if He meant to protect His disciples. He was not done preparing them for the adversity they would face. So, perhaps, like a father sheltering his children, He was asking them to keep this secret for just a little while longer. Until the time came when they could say boldly that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the true son of God.
Now, in this time and in this place, the question for us is, who do we say He is? And what are we going to do about it?
Amen

©Thomas E. Williams 2011

Nothing But Division

Gospel Reading: Luke 12:49-56

“I have come to throw fire on the earth. I wish that it had already started! I have a baptism to go through, and I will suffer until it is over. “Do you think I came to bring peace to earth? No! I can guarantee that I came to bring nothing but division. From now on a family of five will be divided. Three will be divided against two and two against three. A father will be against his son and a son against his father. A mother will be against her daughter and a daughter against her mother. A mother-in-law will be against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud coming up in the west, you immediately say, ‘There’s going to be a rainstorm,’ and it happens. When you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and that’s what happens. You hypocrites! You can forecast the weather by judging the appearance of earth and sky. But for some reason you don’t know how to judge the time in which you’re living.

Message: Nothing But Division

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Our gospel reading brings an image we seldom see of Jesus. We see a glimpse of the one who will sit in judgement on that final day. As we read in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 “After all, no one can lay any other foundation than the one that is already laid, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. People may build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. The day will make what each one does clearly visible because fire will reveal it. That fire will determine what kind of work each person has done. If what a person has built survives, he will receive a reward. If his work is burned up, he will suffer the loss. However, he will be saved, though it will be like going through a fire.”

On that final day, some will be welcomed as a good and faithful servant – see Matthew 25:21 “His master replied, ‘Good job! You’re a good and faithful servant! You proved that you could be trusted with a small amount. I will put you in charge of a large amount. … Come and share your master’s happiness.’)

Some will be turned away to whom he will say, “I never knew you.” as in Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’

So, understand, when Jesus spoke of families being torn apart, it wasn’t a threat. It was an observation. The culture was already fragmented and his clarification of the scriptures would further fragment it.

Let me explain.

  • For nearly 500 years the Jews had berm without a true prophet of God.

  • The original temple, the heart and soul of Jewish life had been destroyed in 587 BC

  • At the time of destruction, most of the upper class of their religion, government, and society had been enslaved and carried away to foreign lands.

Eventually, many returned to rebuild the temple in 538 BC

However, they found that in their long absences, the Jews that had been left behind, had intermarriage with non-Jews. These were the Samaritans.

When the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the temple, they were rejected. So they moved about 40 miles north of Jerusalem and built their own temple.

This division created great hatred between both sides.

Israel, who had previously been given God’s word through the prophets, began to be divided into groups with – very – political, religious, and social agendas. They also differed in their beliefs and traditions about the Messiah.

The religious tried to live the law of Moses as the understood it, but each group interpreted the scriptures from such varied perspectives that Jewish Society became more and more divided. As a result, the true understanding of who the Savior would be became confused.

Once the voices of prophets fell silent, the priests and their fellow Temple workers, the Levites, became the highest officials among the Jews and claimed for themselves the right to interpret scripture.

However, the office of High Priest became corrupted as it was bought and sold during this time.

  • Many Jews felt that the priests and Levites did not fulfill their responsibility to teach the law correctly,

  • a new group evolved who sought teach the law. Known as scribes, they model themselves on Ezra, who had helped his people feel an urgency to learn and to obey the law.

In 167 BC Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian Empire, including Jerusalem and outlawed the Jewish faith, forbidding circumcision and desecrating the temple by offering swine on the altar.

Many Jews resisted, led by a family known as The Maccabees . The Maccabean war eventually brought freedom to the Jews and created a Jewish Nation for the first time since the fall of Jerusalem.

At the same time the hasideans, meaning the pious, formed. They showed their Devotion to God by trying to live every miniscule aspect of the law of Moses as they understood it.

Other religious groups also emerged during this time. Each claiming the – exclusive – right to interpret the scriptures.

(Sounds a lot like many modern groups, amen?)

  • The Pharisees came into being soon after the maccabean war. They became very influential and Jewish Society by introducing a narrow focus on food laws and on ritual Purity, aspects that were rooted primarily in their – oral Traditions, – not scripture.

  • The Sadducees, on the other hand, rejected any appeal to oral tradition and held strictly to the five books of Moses, turning their backs on the writings of other prophets.

Oh yes, let’s not forget that the hated Romans conquered the middle east and occupied Israel in 63 BC.

Jesus came into this mess of mixed messages and misunderstandings and – amazed his listeners because, “Unlike their scribes, he taught them with authority.”

(Matthew 7:28-29)

Some there were, who embraced Jesus’s message of God’s gift of forgiveness through his Son’s sacrifice. And there were those who reject the gift. Families were divided by their beliefs concerning Jesus. There are still those that accept, those that reject, and families are still divided because of Jesus.

Jesus said, “I have come to throw fire on the earth. I wish that it had already started!

Now, let’s talk about that fire in the biblical context.

In the bible Fire is a represents so many things. It can represent the

  • presence of God — as in the pillar fire in Exodus (13:17-22) and the tongues of flame at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

  • It can also represent the final judgment as in Revelation, Satan and his army are consumed by fire (20:7-10).

  • Fire also represents purification — Zachariah (13:9) and Malachi (3:2-3) each refer to God’s intention to purify Israel like a refiner purifies silver by fire.

Jesus is the embodiment of all of these images. Jesus, as part of the Godhead, embodies the presence of God which simultaneously judges and purifies.

The division of which Jesus speaks is a result of the purifying fire he bears. The kingdom of God he proclaims represents a new order governed not by might but by forgiveness, not by fear but by courage, and not by power but by humility.

Those lured by the temptations of wealth, status, and power; and those who rule now will resist this coming kingdom for it spells an end to what they know and love

Therefore Jesus — though coming to establish a rule of peace — brings division, even to the most intimate and honored of relationships, that among family.

But if Jesus’s call to a new way of relating to each other — through forgiveness, courage, and humility — stirred up division during his time and that of the early church, what does it bring today?

There are Christians in some parts of the world who continue to face opposition and persecution. However, we Christians in the western world are seldom openly persecution for the sake of our faith. So, how are we to understand Jesus’s pronouncement that he brings fire and division rather than peace? Just observe how fragmented the Christian denominationsare today. Aren’t families still divided by their beliefs?

Jesus asked his listeners how it is that they could predict the weather but not understand the signs of the times. Can we do our own weather forecasting by discerning the signs of the times? There are few biblical end-time prophecy left unfulfilled. And those could be accomplished quickly.

I don’t know when that trumpet will sound and time will cease! But I do know that it is two thousand years closer than it was when Jesus berated them for not knowing. And I know that it will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief in the night.

Hear these words from 2 Peter 3:10 “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day heaven will pass away with a roaring sound. Everything that makes up the universe will burn and be destroyed. The earth and everything that people have done on it will be exposed.”

Knowing that the day of the Lord will come without warning, what are you and I to do in preparation?

I enjoy watching YouTube channels about Bushcraft, survival, self sufficiency, and prepping. I Was A Boy Scout and I believe in being prepared. We do not have a doomsday bunker filled with a stockpile of weapons to fight off the zombie hordes. However, we do have duffel bags packed with about a week’s worth of clothes plus freeze dried food and water and some basic tools. These are in case of fire, flood, or winds. These preparations will be useless on the Day of Reckoning. To be prepared we need to live the life of service as commanded by and demonstrated by Jesus listen again to Matthew 25:31-40

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home. I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’

Providing shelter, food, water, clothing, health care, protection, love and support, caring for your neighbor, and loving your enemies, these are the things will pass through the fire unharmed.. Simply put, “Always do for other people everything you want them to do for you. (Matthew 7:12a) That is how to be prepared.

And then pray that God’s kingdom comes. Come, Lord Jesus!

The good will of the Lord Jesus be with all of us. Amen!

Portions of this sermon used information from “The Lost 500 Years” by S. Kent Brown & Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

“It is NOT Sink or Swim”


Matthew 14:22-33

Message: “It is NOT Sink or Swim”
Today’s Gospel reading takes place immediately following the feeding of the 5000. Jesus had sent His disciples by boat toward the other side of the sea while He stayed behind to dismiss the people.
After sending the people away, he went up a mountain to pray by himself. When evening came, he was there alone.!
It had been an amazing day of teaching and miracles. Jesus had been surrounded by and sought by thousands of people clamoring for His attention.
He had not only been teaching the masses, but also training the disciples.
Now, He sought time alone to be with His Father in prayer. I can imagine the conversation going something like this:
“Hey, Dad, I had a good day today! A few of them actually saw past the miracles and understood that it wasn’t about filling their stomachs. They really got it!
I tell you, being human isn’t easy, this body is so worn and tired that I think I could sleep through a storm at sea!
Well, I’d better go check on the disciples. They’ll be starting to worry. They’re coming along but its slow going with some of them.
By the way, You’ve got some sense of humor giving me Peter as a disciple. And James and John! What a pair!
Anyway, they are like children at times, and at others they show great insights of understanding about what our purpose here is all about.
I’ll call ya later. Bye, Dad, Love you!
So, by now the boat was hundreds of yards from shore and bouncing like a three-year-old on a sugar high; and trying to sail into the wind. If you have ever tried to stand up in a small boat that is being tossed around by the waves and the wind – or tried to walk on a water bed, you can get some idea of what it was like for Jesus to walk on this rolling carpet of water.
Okay, so sometime in the darkest part of the night – that part before sunrise and when the moon has gone down – Jesus comes hiking through the peaks and troughs of the waves like he was strolling through a meadow.
The disciples see Him and begin screaming like little girls in a snake pit. They believe Him to be a ghost. It’s not clear if they think He is just any ol’ ghost of if they recognize it is Him and believe Him to have finally been killed by His many enemies.
I am sure He was bewildered by their behavior. As far as He was concerned, He was not doing anything so incredible. However because He is ever compassionate, He yells out, “Dudes, it me, calm down!”
At this point, Peter (ever rash, impulsive Peter) says, “Okay, if its you, command me to come to you on the water!”
I doubt Peter had thought this through – he quite often did not think it through until after the fact – however, he had some concept of the fact that, alone he could not step onto the sea and walk, but that if Jesus “commanded” him to do it, that he would also give him the ability to follow through on it.
There is a lesson there for us. When we are commanded, we are also empowered. This goes beyond what Paul means when he says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “(God) will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”
It means that we do not have to rely on our own strength when we are doing the will of God. God’s strength is sufficient to what ever the task is that is set before us.
So, Peter asks Jesus to order him out of the boat. I’m sure that Jesus smiled like a proud parent when their child takes that first unaided step, when He said, “Come on ahead!”
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. – UNTIL – he noticed how strong the wind was, at that point his fear of the wind and the water became stronger than his faith in Jesus. The result was that he started to sink. In his fear, he shouted, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus could have used him as an object lesson to the other disciples and let Peter struggle in the water and find his own way back to the boat.
However, in His compassion, He immediately, reached out, caught hold of him, and said, “You have so little faith! Why did you doubt?”
I do not think that Jesus was speaking only to Peter here. After all, Peter had shown enough faith to get out of the boat while the others were still cowering and whimpering. Peter’s small faith had let him walk on water – if only for a little while.
When they got into the boat, the wind stopped blowing. At this point, the men in the boat bowed down in front of Jesus and said, “You are truly the Son of God.”
This was not the first time that they had said this. But here again they had just been reminded of it.
We are like that sometimes too, we “know” that Jesus is Lord. However, sometimes we fail to act on that knowledge. We, at times, forget the times when Jesus has been our strength, our rock, our guide, our savior, and let our gaze shift to the troubled world around us. We become overwhelmed with the size of the situation we face.
It is times like this when Jesus reaches for us with outstretched had and lifts us from the sea of troubles in which we would drown.
Is He hurt by our lack of faith? Yes, I think so. Is he disappointed in us for our lack of faith? Does He abandon us, give up on us? No! In love he lifts us and sets us on solid ground. Amen.©Thomas E Williams 2011

©Thomas E Williams 2011