Friday, December 9, 2011

“How Blest Are We?”

image from Photo Bucket
Read: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and Luke 1:46b-55 (For your convenience this readings are added at the end of the message)

“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,” Mary sings in a psalm in today’s scripture reading.  But when we look at the facts of Mary’s life, we see troubles and pain and turmoil.  She is pregnant out of wedlock, which is punishable by being stoned to death. 
The Roman’s who have conquered and are occupying the Jewish nation require a census for taxation purposes.  This forces Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem while she is about due to deliver a baby. 
Then she gets to Bethlehem and finds they must spend the night in a stable.  And in a stable she gives birth. 
So far this doesn’t seem to fit our modern concept of be blessed, does it? 
And it gets worse.  When the king hears of the baby’s birth he sends soldiers to find and kill all the children in the area.  She has to uproot her family and go with Joseph and Jesus to a country that certainly is not a “friend to Jews”, Egypt.
Take your choice of people in the old or new testaments and you’ll find that everyone that was blessed was beset with troubles.
Abraham was blessed and the blessing required him to leave his home and security and go to an unknown land.  And if we look closely at that blessing we see that it is THROUGH him that all the world is to be blessed.
                        Kind David, after he is anointed as Israel’s true king by the prophet Samuel, has to run and hide because Saul wants to kill him.
            Moses, it is said, was a prophet like no other because he talked face to face with God.  However, there is not much in his life that could match up with our concept of being blessed.  He escaped being killed at birth only by being set adrift in the Nile (think about Nile crocodiles which still on occasion actively hunt people).  As a young man, he has to flee to the desert.  Then God blesses him and sends him back to Egypt to have a showdown with one of the most powerful and ruthless men in the world.  Even when he has won that battle, he has to lead a bunch of surly, cantankerous, whiners to a Promised Land that they refused to enter.  And then has to put up with them for another forty years.  And in the end, he doesn’t even get to enter the Promised Land himself.
            John the Baptist was blessed of God and lived in the wilderness eating locust and honey before he became a homeless, traveling preacher.  And for his faithfulness, he was beheaded by Herod as a present for his daughter.
            Jesus, the very Son of God, did not live a life of ease and free of troubles.  You may have realized when we read the Bible passage from Isaiah that this is the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue and then told the crowd that He was the person that Isaiah was prophesying about.  As a result those good, religious people took him out of the synagogue to a high hill and tried to throw him off of the cliff.  That is the way His ministry started.  And we know, that in the end, they did succeed in killing Him.
            All of this tells us that our concept of blessings is way to narrow.  When we think of blessings, we think of things like our health, our family, our jobs, our friends, our homes, or our wealth.  Amen?
            Now listen, I’m not saying that those things that I’ve listed aren’t blessings.  What I’m saying is that those blessings are given to us so that we can BE a blessing.
            If God has opened the windows of heaven and poured out for us an overflowing blessing, you can be assured that it wasn’t given to us to hoard.  We know that, right?
We remember, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. ”
            Count your blessings.  Count them one by one.  Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
            I may never sing that song with the same innocence that I’ve sung it in the past.  Amen?
            About a dozen years ago a new understanding of blessings came to me when I was reading and thinking about Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
            I had always loved this verse because it gave me comfort that God was on my side.  Anybody else love that verse and claim it as your own?
However, one day I saw it with new eyes.  I saw that it said “all things work for the good”.  It didn’t say that all things were going to be good.  It wasn’t a promise of “A cloud of pink ice cream where every star is a candy bar and the moon is a marshmallow dream.”
It said that God would take everything and everyone that I encountered in life and make it good for me.  Good for me.  You know, like this medicine is good for me.  The foul smelling, nasty tasting medicine that makes me want to vomit, is good for me.  You know what I’m talking about here.  Amen?
            I came to understand that I don’t have to like it, for it to be good for me.  We don’t have to like it for it to be good for us. We don’t have to like it for it to be a blessing for us.
What we have to do is turn it over to God and he will make it good “for” us.  Do you see?
Now we have lived long enough that we can look back on our life and see many things that came into our life that were far from pleasant.  And yet because of that unpleasant experience, our life was ‘shifted’ onto a better path.  We have been blessed.
And like all those who came before us, we are to BE blessings.
We are to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,  and to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn, to build up the ancient ruins, to raise up the former devastations, to repair the ruined cities, and the devastations of many generations.
And we do that by taking whatever comes into our life, turning it over to God.  We need to give it as an offering of our will to Him.  And He in turn gives us a peace that the world will never know and can not take away. 
I have a joy, joy, joy, joy down it my heart.  Down in my heart to stay.  Amen.

Hebrew Bible:  Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11  Pew Bible OT 691
1The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.  4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
8For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.  10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.  

Gospel: Luke 1:46b-55  Pew Bible NT 57
46b"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Judgment or Grace?

 Scripture readings from Mark 13:24-37 and 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 are found at the end of the message.

Message             Judgment or Grace?        Thomas E. Williams
            The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!  You remember Chicken Little.  An acorn fell on his head and he paniced and started declaring that the sky was falling.  Before long he had Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey all convinced that he was right and everyone was running for shelter.

            How many Chicken Littles have come and gone?  I don’t know for sure.  Hundreds or thousands I’d guess.  I did a quick research on the World Wide Web and found the following:
  1. In the 1530s, Anabaptists assumed control of the German town of Munster and hailed it as a New Jerusalem awaiting the return of Christ.  Jan Bockelson declared himself the "Messiah of the last days," took multiple wives, issued coins that prophesied the coming apocalypse and in general made life hell for everyone in the city.
  2. 666 is described as the "mark of the beast" in the Bible's Book of Revelation. So it was no surprise that Europeans worried as the year 1666 approached.
  3. William Miller began to preach about the world's end, saying Jesus Christ would return for the long-awaited Second Coming and that Earth would be engulfed in fire sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. When that end didn't come, Miller changed the date to Oct. 22. When Oct. 23 rolled around, his loyal followers explained it away yet again.
  4. The Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, founder, Charles Taze Russell, had previously predicted Christ's invisible return in 1874, followed by anticipation of his Second Coming in 1914.
  5. Pentecostal pastor William Branham claimed he met with seven angels who revealed to him the meaning of the seven seals from the Book of Revelation, leading him to predict that Jesus would return to Earth in 1977. 
  6. Harold Camping's prediction that the world will end Saturday, May 21, 2011, is not his first such prediction. In 1992, the evangelist published a book called 1994?, which proclaimed that sometime in mid-September 1994, Christ would return and the world would end. Camping based his calculations on numbers and dates found in the Bible and, at the time, said that he was "99.9% certain" that his math was correct. But the world did not end in 1994. Nor did it end on March 31, 1995 — another date Camping provided when September 1994 passed without incident. "I'm like the boy who cried wolf again and again and the wolf didn't come," Camping told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1995. "This doesn't bother me in the slightest."
  7. Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, which was the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s, predicted that the world would end sometime before Dec. 31, 1988. He cited a host of world events — nuclear war, the communist threat and the restoration of Israel — as reasons the end times were upon mankind. His later books, though less specific, suggested that believers not plan on being on Earth past the 1980s — then the 1990s and, of course, the 2000s.
  8. Edgar Whisenant published a book in 1988 called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, which sold some 4.5 million copies. Whisenant once famously said, "Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong." When 1989 rolled around, a discredited Whisenant published another book, saying the Rapture would occur that year instead. It did not sell as well, nor did later titles that predicted the world would end in 1993 and again in 1994.
  9. Y2K. For months before the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, analysts speculated that entire computer networks would crash, causing widespread dysfunction for a global population that had become irreversibly dependent on computers  
  10. David Koresh led his Branch Davidian sect to its doom in a compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993. How did he do that? He convinced his followers that he was Christ and that they should hole up at what was called the Mount Carmel Center to prepare for the end of the world.
  11. A New Age belief cites 2012 as the year humans will undergo a physical and spiritual transformation, while some people predict that sometime that year, Earth will collide with a black hole or a planet named Nibiru. But perhaps the most popular belief is attributed (falsely, many scholars argue) to the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar from the ancient Mayan civilization. Interpretations suggest that the fourth world, in which we live now, will end on Dec. 21, 2012.

            When will the world end?  I don’t know.  But it seems that all I have to do to build a following of Henny Pennys, Ducky Luckys, Goosey Looseys, and Turkey Lurkeys is use some unsound science or theology and shout it with enough conviction. 
            I’d want to set the date just far enough into the future so that word had time to spread and more people could ‘tune in’ to my message.  And, hey, I could get lucky and the world would end when I predicted and no body would be around to laugh at me.

            There is so much interest in end of the world prophesies that all manner of books, movies and TV shows have been written about it.  And if you really want to see how wide spread the belief in the end of the world is, go to the web.  There are not only prophets making predictions, there are people preparing for it.  There is a whole sub culture of people who call themselves “Preppers”.  They are survivalist types who want to be ready for the ‘coming chaos’.  There are sites where you can buy packages that contain a years worth of freeze dried food, water, first aid kits, ammunition, and seeds so that you can plant your own post-apocalyptic gardens.

            Now understand that I am not belittling them, I believe in a certain amount of preparedness.  I live in a Recreational Vehicle, a fifth-wheel trailer.  My wife and I have an emergency to-go bag with some clothes, our meds, bottles of water and food bars.  We change the contents as the seasons change.  There have been times when the weather reports were indicating that it would be unsafe in our RV.  We took the bag and sought shelter in a safer building.  If our home was destroyed by the storm we had a few necessities with us.  But is it really necessary or possible to prepare for the end of the world?

            Our scripture readings both speak of the Day of the Lord, the day that Jesus comes in the clouds. The sun and moon will be darkened. Stars will fall from the sky and heaven and earth will pass away on that day!

That sounds like the end of the world doesn’t it?  Can we be prepared for it?  Yes, and Jesus tells us what to do.
35Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
            And why are we to watch? Paul tells the Corinthians and by extension us:  Because in every way we have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among us--7so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            As Christians we should be prepared by keeping ourselves right with God.  We ARE SAVED.  That is done!  Now we need to keep our will in line with God’s will.  We need to be about doing what God intends for every believer to be doing.  And that is spreading the Good News that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
            As Christian we should be seeking the end of THIS world and the full realization of the Kingdom of God.  There is nothing to fear in this world’s end, for it is a broken world.  Only by its passing can the new earth and the new heaven be revealed. 
            So what if the stars fall and the sun and the moon are darkened?  We will have the light of Christ as a physical presence in the world.  I will paraphrase the message that the angels gave the shepherds at Jesus’ birth,  "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today there has returned for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
            So often I've heard the phrase "The Coming Judgement" said with fear and trepidation.  I say you to we Christians have already been judged and found innocent by the grace given as a gift of God through Christ Jesus.  What we have to look forward to at the end of the world is the handing out of our rewards.  It is grace not judgement for us at the worlds end.  So rejoice, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

- - -

New Testament          1 Corinthians 1:3-9  
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

*Gospel:                  Mark 13:24-37                
24"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.
27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  32"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  35Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Bible readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Remembering Gran'pa Coons

Remembering Gran’pa Coons
October 18, 2003
I have been thinking about my grandfather.  There are some things that I remember and there are some things that I know about my grandfather.  My memories of my gran’pa are few.  He was in his nineties when I was born, so I remember him as a frail old man who had big gaps in his memory.
What I know of him paints a different picture that is hard for me to visualize.  Trying to picture him as tall, lean and muscular is difficult.  I know he was these things, because he had to be. 
He made part of his living digging wells.  This was before big drilling machines.  This was in the day when they were dug with muscle and sweat.  He was what was known as a well witch or water diviner.
I remember that he showed me how to cut a forked branch from a sapling to use as a divining rod.  He held it in an overhand grasp and then walked with it in front of him. When the end dipped of its own accord this is where there was water.  He could tell by the pull of the rod how deep the well would be.
I’m not sure that I believe in diving for water, but I’ve held it in my hands and felt the pull for myself.
They other thing that he did was fiddle for dances.  All of my grandfather’s relatives played various musical instruments.  These are things I’ve been told by my mother.
These things I remember: I remember gran’pa sitting at the table just staring and not saying a word.  This was his way of letting us know that we needed to pass something to him.  I remember him eating peas with his knife and saucering his coffee for it to cool. 
I recall his mustache.  I’m, at the time of this writing, fifty-six years old and I still envy that mustache.  It was a glorious, bushy thing that completely covered his lower lip. 
I can still see him sitting in his easy chair with his feet propped up in the open door of the oil burner.  The oil burning stove sat in the living room and was the only heat for the two story house.  Gran’pa would sit there and go to sleep with his eyes open.  That both fascinated and scared me.  Once he’d gone to sleep, his pipe would fall out onto his chest.  I think every shirt he owned had burn holes in it.
He had holes in more than his clothes.  He also had holes in his memory.  He knew I was his grandson, but he didn’t recognize my mother as his daughter.  He always called her “that woman”.  I remember how much that hurt her.

I have created a new blog to showcase stories, such as this one.  The new blog is "Stories By Thomas E. Williams.  From this post forward the current blog will be used only to post sermons and has been re-titled to "Sermons By Thomas E. Williams"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth.

Before you read this sermon, understand that parts of it are specific to my home congregation.  However the message goes beyond that group.  It speaks to all who call themselves Christians.

Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States
For your convenience, Bible readings are shown below the message.
Hebrew Bible:  Ezekiel 34:1-17 & Gospel Reading:  Matthew 25:31-46
Message:  by Thomas E. Williams
When studying the scriptures we need to ask questions as we read.  We need to ask; who, what, when, where, why, and how.  We also need to insert ourselves into the narrative.  It is often helpful to ‘try on’ the roles of the different characters in the story.  We can gain new insights by ‘seeing through another’s eyes’.  And finally, we need to ask, what does this mean to ME?
We are going to first examine our reading from Ezekiel.  Let’s take a look at what is going on here.  First of all who are the players in this story? 
  • Well, God is God
  • Ezekiel is the man God has called on to be his messenger.  That’s pretty straight forward. 
  • The sheep are lost.  It seems clear that these are people that are lost, they are without God.
  • But we’ve got shepherds, who are they?  The shepherds are the leaders.  Remember that in that day and age the religious and political leaders were the same people.  There was no division of church and state.  So these leaders were supposedly men of God, his spokespersons to the people but they are falling down on the job.
Now we have the WHO let us examine the what.  The WHAT is the scattering, neglect and destruction of the sheep, the lost people.
WHEN is the next question that we ask.  Ezekiel may have had a specific time in mind for this prophesy, but when we examine it we’ll see that the story is timeless.  It could and has taken place over and over.
Where did these events take place?  Again, as in the question of when, the WHERE is not important to the events of the story because it is a story about universal events.
Moving on to the next question, WHY, we find that there are many WHYS here: greed, laziness, self centeredness, self willed and on and on.
The HOW of the story seems to indicate a general neglect of the sheep by the shepherds.  When it is not neglect it is abuse.

Okay, so God says, Hey Zek! Take this message to the leaders of your nation.  Tell them that I am really NOT happy.  And when I’m not happy, ‘aint nobody happy.  Do you blockheadds really think that I can’t see what is going on? 
You are down there getting fat off of My people.  You take the blessings that I have given them to pad your own nest eggs.  You are all dressed up in your fancy clothes , living in your mansions, driving expensive cars – er, camels, and taking the best of everything for yourselves.
Man, it sure points out how little things have changed doesn’t it?
If you watch the TV or read the paper you can tell that these guys would feel right at home in our world today.
They were supposed to be leaders.  Now, you can’t be a leader if you aren’t moving and nobody is following!  And according to this parable, the sheep – that is the people – were lost.  They were scattered over the face of the earth and nobody was searching for them.  
            Not one of these, supposedly good, Godly people was getting out of their comfort zone and ….

            Oh oh!  I just got one of those spiritual slaps up side the head!
I was feeling fairly comfortable with my place in this parable.  I was seeing myself as a sheep – were you? 
But look here, we are not the ‘lost’.  We have been redeemed.  We are sitting here in church because we have found THE WAY.  Oh, we’re not perfect and we may temporarily get turned around but I really can’t see casting us in the role of the sheep.
            But wait a minute, Tom, if they are the lost sheep, who are we 
            Well, we sure aren’t God.
            And unless God has your cellphone number, I don’t think we are Ezekiel either.
Man, I hate to admit this, but I think that we may be the shepherds that ol’ Zeke here is talkin’ to.  I was feeling so smug and comfortable a minute ago. Now, not so much.
The shepherds were the religious leaders and yet they were not doing what shepherds do.  Shepherds do not sit at home while the sheep are in the field.  Shepherds feed the sheep. They lead them to where the water is good.  They protected them from the wild beasts.  They bring them safely home.  That is what shepherds are SUPPOSED to do.
Ol’ Ezekiel’s shepherds did not protect, did not heal the injured, did not lead, they did not even do the most basic of care by feeding the sheep.  And as a result, the Almighty Lord says: I am against the shepherds. I will demand that they hand over my sheep. I won’t let them take care of my sheep anymore, and they will no longer take care of only themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, and my sheep will no longer be their food.
            In our Gospel reading, Jesus lays out the job description for being the right kind of shepherd. 
35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' 
            Now, this congregation does many good things to take care of the sheep.  We do protect through various programs such as the blanket bucks,
We feed through programs like the food pantry, the monthly meals at Trinity, the Heifer Project and even the suppers provided through UP kids.
We clothe the naked through our contributions to the Ingathering and yes through the rummage sales.
We visit, pray for and send cards and flowers to the sick
We welcome the stranger that enters our doors.

However, I’m wondering if we doing all that we can to go find the lost sheep that are scattered across the face of the earth.  Our church’s mission statement is.
We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By
Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth.

Answer this for yourselves, are we really reaching out?  Are we seeking the lost?  I know that if the lost find their way into our fold, we will welcome them, we will protect them, we will feed them, and many other things that a good shepherd would do.  But let’s face this, a good shepherd does not just open the gate to the shephold and hope the sheep find their way to.  He actively seeks the sheep and herds them into safety.
I have to ask this, and understand that I’m not just asking YOU, I’m asking US, are we actively inviting people in?  And if we are, are they the lost sheep?  Or we inviting the saved to come and join us?
I ask that because … well, here is a personal admission:  We just recently got some new neighbors who will be spending the winter in an RV near ours.  Ella asked them if they had found a church home yet and we invited them to come to church with us. 
Were we being shepherds?  Not really, these people are already Believers.  We were not inviting sheep.  We were inviting more shepherds.
If we are to live up to our mission statement, we need to go find the sheep and bring them in.  We need to be seeking the lost.  Just as Jesus did.  “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10.  Jesus was fulfilling what Ezekiel had prophesied, “11For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.  12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”  We, as Christ’s hands and feet on earth are under an obligation to continue this work. 
Remember the words of the Great Commandment in Matthew 28, “19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have command you.”
This was not a suggestion to sit in our comfortable sanctuary and wait for the lost to wander in.  This is a command to go and find them.
We each have to ask ourselves how we have obeyed this command.  When we stand before God will He say,  'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'

Hebrew Bible:    Ezekiel 34:1-17 1Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to them- to the shepherds, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep?  3You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings but you do not feed the sheep.  4You have not strengthened the weak, the you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost. but with force and hardship you have ruled them.5 So they were scattered, for there was no shepherd, and scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:8 "As I live," says the Lord GOD, because My sheep have become a prey, and My sheep have become food for all the wild animals since there was no shepherd, and because My shepherds have not searched for My sheep, but  the shepherds fed themselves and have not feed My sheep;9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:10 'Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves.  I will rescue My sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
11For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.  12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.  13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land.  14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.  15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.  16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
17As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats

Gospel Reading:          Matthew 25:31-46
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'  37Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  40And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'  41Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  44Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'  45Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'  46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life the foundation of the world”?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

re-post from

This is a cut and past from Adam's, my son, blog


30 Days Of Thanks: Dad

Dear Dad,

            You have always inspired me to use my imagination and I thank you for that. I have talked to you many times before about people wanting their kids to have a better life than their own. I am not passing any judgments on Grandma Williams, but thank you for moving up and out of the chicken shack. I believe that my kids don’t have to worry about mice eating their cereal or people breaking into our house. So progress is in motion.
            It is a running joke between Leigha and myself that I didn’t do anything fun or travel as a kid because I was poor. I guess that is only funny because I am not poor anymore. I do find that sometimes, I still stash food. The emergency beef jerky in the glove box, per se.
            I don’t know if your creativity and artistic interests stemmed from poverty as well, but if that is the case, I say that it was well worth it. I believe that once I entered into the workplace, albeit a few years too late, I have learned from you how to have fun with whatever situation that I am in, and to make friends while doing it.
            One thing that I have admired about you for as long as I can remember is your near-universal likeability. (You can’t really be like by everyone, can you?) It is one quality that I would like to believe that I got from you. You have a special quality when you are interacting with kids. You have the ability to talk to kids without seeming pretentious or creepy. And it isn’t because you look like Santa Clause, either. With the amount of times that people have told me that you are funny and have a great personality, perhaps you were destined to be fat.
            Sometimes, when I tell people that I have already read your will, they think that it is weird. I’ve never though it was weird. What I DIDthink was odd was that you kept it in the freezer. I remember that there was a line that said that I had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. That has always stuck with me. Thank you for dehydrating me and encouraging this thirst. Thank you for swallowing your pride and playing Trivial Pursuit with me again after I beat you for the first time. There is no shame in losing to me repeatedly, as I did the same to you for decades.
            I suppose that I’ve also got you to thank for my appreciation for words and the English language. Leigha says that it get to the point where it is difficult to sit in on a conversation between us when we start trying to out-clever and out-pun each other. That’s fine; it almost becomes our own language. Thank you for being a loving and caring father that has taught me to be the same.

And here is his response:

            First of all, thank you including me in your list of 30 important people in your life.
As you know I grew up without a father.  I did have a couple of father figures in my life.  One was my brother who was seventeen years my senior.  He was there when I was born.  However, I don’t actually remember him until I was in the 2nd grade.  He had graduated, joined the Navy, got out of the Navy, and gotten married to a woman who already had a son, Keith, from a previous marriage.  Even then I didn’t see him often until he moved back into my mother’s house.  By that time he had several more kids (three – I think).  This is when I got to know more about him.  And I didn’t like what I saw.  From my perspective as a kid myself, I saw him as a brute and a bully who was abusive to his kids.  So, when I had children of my own I chose to have a different relationship with my kids.  I wanted to be their teacher, their mentor, and a friend.  (Sometimes it is hard to be a friend when you are also the parent – but you know that by now.)
Another role model that I had was our neighbor, Russell.  Although I was oblivious to it then, he was my mother’s boyfriend.  Russell was my buddy.  He took me fishing – a lot.  In those days there was no trash pick up.  We had a ‘burn barrel’ to dispose of everything that would burn.  The trash that would not burn would accumulate until we had enough to load a pickup truck and take to the dump.  Russell would take me to the dump.  I loved the dump!  I think I may have carried half a load back from the dump whenever we went.  I picked up old radios, business signs or anything that had lights, bells, buzzers, or speakers.  I became a pretty good repair person for those old radios and built lots of ‘neat stuff’ from the motors, lights etc.  Yes, I have found memories of Russell.  Russell was a buddy – but he was not a father.  He would have let me do anything I wanted.  There was no discipline there. 
My best father figure was my mother.  She was fun and enjoyed my craziness and at the same time never forgot (or let me forget) who was the parent.  I got my love of books and education from this woman who dropped out before ever going to high school. (She raised her brothers and sisters after her mother’s health became too bad.) I truly believe she was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.  I know that my sense of humor and sarcasm came from this sharp witted/sharp tongued woman.
I tried to be the kind of father that would encourage you and your siblings to become self-reliant and creative.  By the way, doing that is kind of like being in charge of a stampede.  You can get things moving but have only marginal control of where it goes or when it stops.
I’m so proud of all of you kids for the adults and parents you have become.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

Read: Joshua 3:7-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 and Matthew 23:1-12          

        I like a church where people read the Bible.  People who read the Bible for themselves are less likely to be lead astray.  Be wary of people who build their lessons on a verse here and a verse there.  Read before and after the verse. See if the whole section, chapter, or book supports the lesson that they are teaching
Now, I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray.  However, if I was the kind of person who would lead you astray, I would be the kind of person who would lie and say, “I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray.”
        So, how do we choose the spiritual leader that we follow?  And I am not talking about how the conference appoints a pastor.  I’m talking about how WE chose to whom we listen.
        Have you ever played “Follow the Leader”?  One person leads and everyone else follows and does exactly what the leader does.  Anyone who doesn’t do the same as the leader is out of the game.  The game goes on until only the leader and one other person is still in the game.  Of course the leader in the game tries to make it as hard to follow as possible.  It is the challenge that makes it fun.  In life we want a leader who wants to make it possible for us to follow even when the times are challenging.
        Some leaders are charismatic. There is just something about their personality that makes people want to follow them.  By all accounts, Jesus Christ was certainly a charismatic leader. People were drawn to Him by the strength of His character.  However, the cult leader Jim Jones was also said to be very charismatic.  So charisma is not the answer.
        Maybe we choose to follow a particular leader because they lead us where we want to go.  That certainly sounds like a leader we could follow.  Amen?  I’ll remind you of some Biblical examples.  Moses lead a mob of ex slaves that complained and back peddled for forty years in the dessert – all because they did not like where he lead them. 
        In the New Testament, Jesus consistently took his disciples to places they did not want to go.  He took them to the houses of sinners and tax collectors.  He took them among the lepers and He took them into Jerusalem when the authorities were making plans to kill Jesus and punish His disciples.  No, we should not choose a leader because he leads us where we want to go.
        Perhaps we choose the leader we follow because he can quote scriptures to back up his leadings.  Recall, if you will, that Satan also quotes scripture.  Between the Old and the New Testaments there are so many passage that can be pulled out of context and made to sound like something they were never meant to say.  No, even Bible knowledge is not the test of a true spiritual leader.

        The Hebrew Bible lesson takes place just after the 30 days of mourning following the death of Moses.  Moses had trained Joshua to take his place.  Moses had told the people’s leaders that Joshua was going to lead them into the Promised Land.  However, this was the moment when Joshua became a leader because “Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in front of all the people of Israel. I will do this to let them know that I am with you just as I was with Moses.”
Following God’s order, Joshua ordered the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant, “When you step into the water of the Jordan River, stand there.” 
Now remember that the Jordon River was at flood stage.  We, here, have been through floods in the past few years.  We know the power of the flood.  We have heard the warnings to not drive on flooded streets because even a few inches of fast moving water can sweep a car down into deeper waters. 
Now, put yourself in the place of the priests who have just been told to walk into the flood and stand there.  How willing are you to step into that water?  How much do you trust the man who just told you to stand in the flood?
Now Joshua calls to the people of Israel and tells them, “Come here, and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly force your enemies out of your way. Watch the ark of the Lord of the whole earth as it goes ahead of you into the Jordan River. The water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam.”

        In the New Testament reading Paul give thanks that the people of Thessalonica have been good followers of his example.  He commends them for being good followers of the gospel of Christ. What kind of leader was Paul?  Well, he says that he took a job to earn a living so that he could minister to them with burdening them financially.  He says that God is his witness that he was pure, honest, and blameless in his dealings with the believers. And that he treated each of them the way a father treats his children. He comforted them and encouraged them. Yet, he insisted that they should live in a way that proves they belong to the God who calls them into his kingdom and glory.

        In our gospel reading we find Jesus warning people to follow the teachings of but not the examples of the religious leaders.  These leaders continued to teach the laws of Moses but they had enforced burdens on the people that the leaders were exempt from.

The reading begins, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,”
Then – Jesus said.  Then – indicates something had happened before.  So, let’s set what He is about to say into the time frame of what has gone before.
·       Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt.
·       The people have hailed him as the Messiah.
·       He has cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the temple merchants.
·       He has been challenged by the religious leaders and has won every debate.
·       He has just finally silenced the Pharisees by asking them questions about the Messiah that they could not answer.
Then – Jesus turns to the crowds and to his disciples and says, “The scribes and the Pharisees teach with Moses’ authority. So be careful to do everything they tell you.”
Jesus recognized that, as persons in positions of authority, the scribes and Pharisees were to be respected.  It is much like what I was told in the military.  When you are saluting and officer, you are saluting the rank – not the man.  So, these teachers were teaching with Moses’ authority and are to be followed because of what they teach – not because of who they are.
Jesus even said, “But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach.”
These people obviously knew the truth because they had been teaching it.  Jesus says that what they teach is true.  However, they do not live it.  Even worse, He says that they intentionally make it as hard as possible for the people to follow the rules they create.  And yet do not subject themselves to the same set of rules.
Jesus states their motivation is to “do everything to attract people’s attention. They make their headbands large and the tassels on their shawls long. They love the place of honor at dinners and the front seats in synagogues. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have people call them Rabbi.”  These, so called, leaders want all of the attention, trappings, and power of their positions but are unwilling to fulfill the true purpose of their positions.
Then Jesus gives the people a further warning, “Don’t make others call you Rabbi, because you have only one teacher, and you are all followers” When compared to the true teacher, every other person falls short.  We must all be students of the true teacher.
Then Jesus tells us who the true head of our household is to be. “Don’t call anyone on earth your father, because you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.
Since we all have one Father that makes us family.  That means that there is no ‘us verses them’ because we are all ‘us’.  That perspective should eliminate a whole lot of conflict when we finally embrace it.
As to being a leader, He says, “Don’t make others call you a leader, because you have only one leader, the Messiah.”  If you want to truly be a leader and not just be called “Leader” here is what you must do.  “The person who is greatest among you will be your servant.” And remember, “Whoever honors himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be honored.”

So, when we are looking for leadership, these are the attributes for which we should be looking.  We need a leader strong enough to lead us where we do not want to go.  We want a leader that truly has our best interests a heart.  We should look for a leader who is both gentle and firm as a father.  We need a leader who is not just trying to line his own pockets or increase his own power. We need a leader who has the heart of a servant.  And most of all we really need a leader who is a sincere follower of God. 
And let us not forget that we need to do our part by keeping ourselves in tune with the word of God so that we can recognize and embrace the true leaders in our lives.
        So let me ask you, who do you trust to lead you through the flood?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ownership / Stewardship

(Gathering Meditation:     30 Day In-Home-Trial.
       Lord, I stood with one foot in the door.  I heard you calling me and I wanted to answer, “Here am I!”  My heart cried out, “I believe!”  However my mind was full of doubts.  Your promises seemed too good to be true: Salvation, Life eternal, Be born again as a child of God, Become a new creation – the old passwd away and everything new!  I’ve heard promises before.  I’ve been betrayed before.  It hurts so much to trust and have that trust broken.  How could I trust You, O Lord?  You answered, “Bring one-tenth of your income into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I won’t open the windows of heaven for you and flood you with blessings.”  Really?  I could test You?  When you kept this promise, then I knew that I can trust You to keep your other promises.  I’ve put you to the test with my tithe as you command and I’ve proven that you are trustworthy.  I believe your other promises!
Based on Malachi 3:10)

Message             “Ownership / Stewardship”          Tom Williams      
  “He is no fool who gives what he can not keep to gain what he can not loose.”  I heard this quote last Sunday and it seemed to fit well with the message for today.
        Next week is Consecration Sunday for our church and we’ll be hearing about financial stewardship.  Financial support is one of the ways that we can support God’s work in the world and is an important part of being a good steward.
In the Biblical stories about stewards they are commonly slaves or servants that are given responsibility over a task or a piece of property.  Think of the three slaves who were given talents/money by their master before he left for a foreign country.  Two of the slaves put the money to work and earned additional income on it.  They were called ‘good’ and given rewards.  The one who only protected the money by burying it gave back to the master exactly what had been entrusted to him.  He was condemned by his master and the little that he had been given was taken away from him. 
        It is important to remember that this is given as an example for us to follow.  We are to take what we are given by God and put it to use for His good.
        Okay, so then the question is, “What belongs to God and what belongs to us?”  Do you remember what was in your hands the day you were born? That’s right, nothing!  That is what you truly own in this world, nothing! 
We often give a dedication prayer after the offering that says, “Of Thy own have we given Thee, O Lord.”  How often do we consider the truth of that statement?  How often do we realize that nothing on this earth is ours to keep?   How often do we realize that we are only tenants and not owners?  When do we admit to ourselves that we are only stewards of God’s world?
        I’m reminded of a story about the old-time farmer who sat down to eat and said this prayer, “Thank you Lord for this bread that I baked from flour that I ground from the seed I harvested from the wheat that  I grew in the field that  I planted on the land  I cleared of rocks with which I built the hearth to bake the bread.”  With his lips he may have said, “Thank You Lord.”  But in his heart he was feeling that he had done everything himself. 
        Perhaps the farmer should have been praying, “Thank You, Lord for this bread. Thank you from the wisdom to make flour ground from seeds you created.  Thank you for the rich soil you provided, and for the sun and rain in their seasons that caused the wheat to grow.  Thank you for the strength to work the soil and build the hearth.  Thank you for the health to eat the bread full of the nutrients you placed there, O Lord.  Thank You for this time of rest and refreshment in which to enjoy this bread. Amen.”
        Our Bible readings from the old and new testaments deal with a couple of good stewards, Moses and Paul.
        In our Hebrew Bible reading, we see the end of the journey for Moses.  It is recorded that Moses saw God face to face and that there has never been another like him.  Moses has brought his people to the Promised Land (for the second time).    Remember that it did not take forty years for the Israelites to reach the Promise Land.  It only took a few months to get there the first time.  But they refused to go in.  God gave it to them but they did not accept the gift.  Because of that, God had them wander in the desert until that whole generation died. Now they are back and ready to go in.
God has given the land to the Israelites.  They will still have to secure it because other tribes and other nations have claimed it as there own.  It is a gift but they have to take it.  This gift of God’s is much like our salvation which is a free gift but unless we accept it and use it, it makes no difference in our lives.  The Israelites were to conquer the land and use it for God’s purpose.  In other words, they were stewards of the land – not the owners.
        In our New Testament reading, Paul points out to his readers that, although he as an apostle of Christ and he had a right to be rewarded for his service, he had not come to them with flattering words not tried to trick them out of their money.  He had come as a steward declaring the love of God in Christ to them.  So that they could also become stewards of God’s plan.
        Jesus has a lot to say in his many parables about stewards and servants and slaves.  Some are bad stewards and they lose their jobs, possessions, and sometimes their lives.  Some are good stewards and they are rewarded and promoted and praised!.  There is a common beginning to all the stories of stewards: at the start, all of them are trusted to carry out the commands and wishes of the master.  By their actions their hearts are revealed to be either trustworthy or not.
        Invariably the trouble with the bad stewards is that they forget who the true owner is.  They begin to think that what they manage belongs to them.  That is a dangerous mindset.  “Mine, mine, mine!” cries the little child within us.
        The good steward is always shown as the one who obeys the master’s wishes.  But more than that, the good steward is one who begins to think like the master – to have the same heart as the master - and to anticipate what the master wants - without having to be told.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
        That brings me to my own story.
        I know that many people give financially to God’s work because they believe in God.  That is certainly not unusual.  However, my story about giving is a little different.  I believe in God because I gave.  Did you read the “Gathering Meditation” this morning?  That is basically MY story.
After years of disbelief, I had been asked bluntly if I believed that Jesus died for me.  I started attending church.  I listened to the preacher and the Sunday school teacher talk about the promises of God.  My emotions were stirred, or as Wesley said, “My heart was strangely warmed.”  It was obvious that these Christians had something that I didn’t.  I was drawn to it.
And yet my mind was cynical.  Certainly I was too smart to fall for this foolishness no matter how attractive it was!  What I needed was a thirty-day-money-back-guarantee.  I needed some way to ‘try out’ this God thing.
That’s when I came across Malachi 3:10 which says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
Really?  I could put God to the test?  Wow! Here was my guarantee.  
I took God’s challenge and started to tithe.  It was not an easy step for me.  I had precious little ‘spare’ money.  I thought it a good week when I still had money left before the next paycheck came.  But I quickly learned that God didn’t want my ‘spare’ money.  God wanted the ‘first fruits’.  He wanted His 10% off the top.
Okay, so this was His challenge.  If I was going to really put Him to the test, I had to follow his plan.  So I did.  I was so surprised to find money left at the end of the first month that I put it aside and didn’t spend it.  The next month I had more money left. 
        This did NOT MAKE SENSE!  And THAT was the big lesson that I learned: this God stuff does not make sense, because God’s wisdom is foolishness to men. 
You see a good steward has that child-like faith that believes what God says, - He will do.  Being a good steward requires an attitude change and in the way we think about
‘our“ possessions.
        I’ll admit that it has not always been easy and sometimes I have not proven to be as faithful as I want to be.  However, God has continued to be faithful to me.
        Now here is a question for us.
Why does God say bring our tithes that there may be food in my storehouse?  Why does God want our tithes?  Not for Himself, certainly, it all belongs to Him anyway!  It is because it is one way that God expresses His love for us, His children.  It gives us a chance to share, to be in partnership with the Almighty
Here is that same question turned around. Why should we bring our tithes into God’s storehouse?
I was given this United Methodist Publication entitled “Why We Give” and it says that, “Christians give through their churches for many reasons, including – but not limited to – the following:
        Because God first gave to us
        Because we love God
        Because it is what Christians do
        Because it is what United Methodists do
        To make ministry and mission happen
 Because, together, we can do what no one individual or    
 congregation can do separately

Remember, God does NOT need our money.  He does, however, want us to be good stewards and share in the joy of giving.  For giving is Godlike. 
Here ends the lesson.