Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Widow's Bread

1 Kings 17:10-16 CEV
                10 When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire. “Would you please bring me a cup of water?” he asked. 11As she left to get it, he asked, “Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?”
                12The widow answered, “In the name of the living Lord your God, I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil. I’m on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me. After that, we will starve to death.”  
                13Elijah said, “Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me. 14The Lord God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won’t run out and your bottle of oil won’t dry up before he sends rain for the crops.”
                15The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her. She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time.16The Lord kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.

            A handful of flour and a little olive oil that is a very basic recipe for bread.  There was no time for livening.  The widow and her son were starving to death.  This was to be their last meal.  All that was at hand to eat was flour, oil and water. 
            I made bread from this recipe, although I added just a pinch of salt.  This bread is for our last communion meal for the year at Cutty’s campground.  It seemed a fitting way to end our season of worship. 
            Because space is at a premium, campers and RVers know how to “make do with a little”.  With this handful of flour and a little olive oil we will feed the twenty or so people who attend our last worship service. 
            The story of turning a little into “a lot” or at least “enough” is the story of God’s love for us.  We turn over the little we have to God and He makes it enough.  Sometimes He makes it an overflowing blessing so that we may bless others.  The widow did this with Elijah and certainly Christ has done it for us.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The End of Summer

            Today (August 29, 2011) was our next to last worship service here at Cutty’s Des Moines Camping Club.  We started on Memorial Day weekend and will end on Labor Day Weekend. 
            It has been an interesting couple of months for me.  For the first time, I’ve had the responsibility for preparing a sermon every week.  It has caused me to find a new way to do Bible study.  This summer I have had to think about interpreting the scriptures for corporate worship.  That is different than reading the scriptures for personal inspiration.
            Now, that I will be going back to my home church and back to occupying a pew most Sundays, I am going to miss our worship time at the campground.  I have decided that I will continue to prepare a sermon every week to keep in practice.  I’ll continue to post them here on my blog.  I hope that you have and will continue to receive a blessing from reading these sermons.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Q & A

 Matthew 21:23-32           

        Our message begins on a typical Sabbath morning.  Jesus had gone into the temple to do what he had been doing all His life (being about His Father’s business).  Here he was teaching and explaining the Law and the Prophets when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him.
        They asked, “Dude, who do you think you are?  WE are the teachers here.  These people pay US to tell them how WE interpret the scriptures.  WE spent years studying with a respected rabbi before we were allowed to teach.  What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?  Where is YOUR diploma?”
        Now I know that the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus had a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his lips when he answered, but I believe He did when He said, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things.
        Can you see the fear on these priests and leaders faces?  You know they were not used to being challenged; not here in the synagogue.  This was their home turf.  I can imagine them starting to sweat and beginning to back away.  Then Jesus asked the question, “Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”
        Oh man!  They knew it!  He was setting them up!  They thought it over and said to each other, “There is no way we can answer Him. We can’t say that God gave John this right. Because then Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe; and there is no way we can defend ourselves there.  On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.”
        So these religious leaders did a quick huddle and decided to play it safe.  So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”
        Jesus said, “Okay, so you won’t be honest with me.  Well then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”
        Now right here at verse 28 the story appears to take a sharp right turn.  It almost appears that Jesus is changing the subject.  But hang on; He knows where He is going with this lesson.
        Now Jesus, while he has these leaders’ attention says, “I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think.”
        Oh yeah! I’m sure that they are looking forward to THIS quiz.  After all, they had done so well on the last one!
        Jesus began the story, “The father went to the older son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today!”  His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went. 
        The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but then he didn’t go to work after all.”
        Okay, the parameters of the story have been explained.  Now Jesus asks, “So, teachers, which one of the sons obeyed his father?”
        The chief priests and leaders answered, “The older one!” Wow! This test was easier than they thought it was going to be!  This was not near as tricky as they had feared.  The answer was so obvious!  The one who obeyed was the one who obeyed, even though he had at first refused.  Simple, really, when you thought about it.
        Then Jesus told them: “You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will!
        What?  Why?  We answered your question correctly!  We know we did!
        “Because, when John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe and follow him.  You were the son that said you would but then refused to follow.  By your own tongues you have judged yourselves.
        But these “evil” people, the tax collectors and prostitutes, did believe.  They may have been disobedient at the beginning but then they repented and changed.  And even then, when you, priests and teachers of the Law, saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe.  What good is to say ‘yes’ with your lips and ‘no’ with your actions?”
        Now it is our turn to answer Jesus.  We sing on Sunday morning; “Follow, I will follow thee my Lord”, “Where he leads me I will follow”, or dozens of other hymns that speak about our obedience to the Lord.
        Are we just moved by the music and mouthing the words without thought?  If so, how many lies do Christians sing each week?  Can we better defend ourselves to Jesus questions than did the “religious” people of His day?
        If we can’t do better than they, then what makes us think that Christ will be any easier on us for our disobedience?
        We are good people!  We know we are.  However, the chief priests and synagogue leaders were also ‘good people’.  For the most part they were trying to do what they thought was expected of them.  They said all the right words, just as they had been taught.
        It was their actions, or their lack of actions that was getting them into trouble with Jesus.  It is what can get us into trouble with Jesus. 
        We hear, we listen, we nod our heads in agreement and may even shout, “Amen!”  But to what avail if it has caused no change within our lives?
        James 1:22 says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”  Sometimes James is misunderstood as saying that people are saved by their actions.  He only says that the proof that they are saved is the changes it makes in their actions.
        If we have been changed, if we are new creatures, then those around us should be able to notice.  I pray that when we sing, “Where He leads me I will follow” we will be singing the truth of our hearts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Matthew 20:1-16

       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.  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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sin Happens - So Does Forgiveness

Matthew 18:15-20

       “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 he has 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 collector.
       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.
       1. Sin Happens!
       2. Make sure you don’t!
       3. Don’t lead others into sin!
       4. If you do sin, Get right with God – Quick!
       5. 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.

Keeping Score of Forgiveness

Genesis 50:15-21         
Matthew 18:21-35 

            Forgiveness is unnatural!  We are the center of our own universe. Everything and everyone revolves around us – right?  Be honest, now. None of us are minor characters in our autobiography.
            Oh, we aren’t always unforgiving.  We can fairly easily, forgive those that we like.  After all, most of the time we agree with them.  However, what about the people that we never got along with anyway?  Now they’ve done something that we just “can’t” forgive.  They don’t deserve it.  They were wrong and hurtful on purpose.  They aren’t ‘nice people’.
            Our Hebrew Bible reading is part of the continuing story of Joseph and his brothers.  Remember that the brothers, in their jealousy, plotted to kill Joseph then decided that they could sell him for a profit.  So they threw Joseph into a dry well and waited for foreign traders to come near.
            How many years do you think Joseph cursed his brothers for his enslavement?  To be betrayed in such a cruel way by his own flesh and blood must have been hard to bare. 
            Oh we know, and Joseph eventually came to understand, that God had a plan in place.  Still, there was a lot of pain and hurt to go through before the blessing became evident.  I wonder how many times the pain and hurt we are currently suffering is a blessing in the making?  I know that I can look back on some dark times in my life that became blessings.  I just wish that they had come with a tag that said, “This is a blessing in disguise!”
            Jesus says to forgive seventy-seven times!  Joseph had eleven brothers who betrayed him.  Along the way to the throne room in Egypt, there were others who betrayed him.  Seventy-seven times for each of them?  That’s a lot of forgiveness!
            In today’s gospel reading Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me?”  It is a great question considering that Jesus had just finished preaching about forgiving fellow believers when they had sinned against them. 
            Evidently, Peter had been listening and thinking about it.  And he had decided, okay, he was willing to forgive.   Great!  There! That would prove that he was a good follower of Jesus.  He could puff out his chest and pat himself on the back for being a good listener and a good follower!
            But, wait, what happens if the person he forgives continue to sin against him.  Hmmmm?  How long should he forgive? 
            So, he asks Jesus that important question, “How many times?”  Peter was feeling very forgiving so he offered to forgive seven times.  Certainly no man could be expected to forgive a rascal that kept sinning more than seven times.  You’d have to be a saint to forgive like that!  Peter probably thought that Jesus would be proud of him for being so forgiving.
            But then Jesus answered: “Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!”
            Oh come on!  Seventy-seven times?  Well, that’s not realistic is it?  I mean, for one thing, how are we going to keep score?  We’d have to carry a notebook full of the people that we have to forgive.  That could take a fair size pad!  And then we would need to keep putting little check marks each time we forgive them!  We had better alphabetize the list or we will never be able to keep it straight!
            Do see what is happening here?  If we are keeping score (77 times or even 7 times), we have not really forgiven in our hearts.  This is getting harder – isn’t it?  We can forgive – until they do it again, or add something else to the list of wrongs and hurts that we carry.  I have a family member who is much like that.  She will forgive me – until the next time.  Then she brings up things that I did when I was four-years old!
            We need a guide book, or better yet a mentor to show us how to do it.  Oh yeah, the Bible is our guide book and Jesus is our mentor.  “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” He said as He was hanging on the cross.  Wow!  I am so glad that God forgives and forgets!  Scriptures say that He remembers our sins no more!  We need to strive to forgive like that.  We need to be unrealistic in our forgiving.  To forgive and forget is our goal.
            To get his point across, Jesus tells a story that illustrates the difference between true, godly forgiveness and what we commonly call forgiveness. 
            The king in his story has a legal issue with one of his officials.  When the official is caught dipping into the till, the king applies legal justice and requires that the man (and his family) be sold into slavery so that his debt could be satisfied.
            Jesus listeners would have been nodding their heads in understanding and agreement.  They understood this kind of justice.  They saw this type of justice all the time.
            Also it wasn’t odd that the official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!”  Of course he would.  Who wouldn’t repent when caught and facing punishment?
            But then something unexpected did happen!  The king felt sorry for him and let him go free.
            What?  The king had nothing to gain by forgiving him.  Sure the official claimed that he would pay the king back everything that he owed.  So what?  The king would be repaid by selling the official’s property, family and the official himself.  There was no gain for the king to release the man on promise or repayment.
            But then this truly odd turn is thrown into the story.  The king even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money.  This would have been truly shocking to his listeners as indeed it is to us in this day and age.  We understand the “what’s in it for me?” attitude but this complete forgiveness is difficult to follow.  This forgiveness had carried a cost to the king.  He was now out the money that he man had stolen. 
            I said earlier that forgiveness is unnatural.  The example of this type of forgiveness requires divine intervention.  I do not believe we can forgive to this level without God in our lives.  We have to be able to give it all to God and say, “not my will but thine, O Lord!”
            True forgiveness, the kind that causes a change of heart in the person forgiving, even if it causes no change in the heart of the forgiven, is what Jesus is was demanding of his followers. 
            Seventy-seven times, that is to say, we are to forgive to the point that we can not possible keep score anymore.  We are to apply god-like forgiveness, to forgive and forget.  To seek not justice but to apply mercy is the true goal.
            Give us strength O Lord.  Amen.

Here Is Your Outline – Live It

 Romans 12:9-21

       I have the preflight checklist for a Cessna 172 airplane.  You know the thing that you’ve seen them do where one person reads off, “Lights, Avionics Power Switch , Pitot Heat – OFF, Master Switch – OFF, Elevator Trim – TAKEOFF”  And someone else is standing there with a clipboard going, “Check, Check, Check.” 

       Well, sure, if we are going to be flying way above the ground, 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.
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 pilot 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.”

What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

Matthew 15:10-20

        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.”
       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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

Matthew 16:13-20

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 the local shopping and maybe stopped in at Floyds 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 was the 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 Kingdom of God?  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."
       So, most people still had not realized just who it was that walked among them.  Who it was that feed them – spiritually and physically.  They realized that He was a man of God.  But they had not yet realized He was a 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 you 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.
       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?

Monday, August 8, 2011


Matthew 14:22-33
       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 – after the moon has set and well before sunrise – 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 or if they recognize that 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.  He could have said, “Sink or swim, Peter!”
       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 He is. 
       Is he disappointed in us for our lack of faith?  Yes!
        Does He abandon us, give up on us?  No! 
       In love he lifts us and sets us on solid ground.
       We need to stop looking down at our feet!  And stop looking at where we are and what we are walking on or through.
       We need to get our eyes on God for by faith, God led his people through the waters of the Red Sea.
       By faith, He held back the waters of the flooded Jordon River and let his people pass.
       By faith, John the Baptist plunged repentant people into the waters.
       And by Faith, Peter walked upon the waters.
       Let us look into the eyes of Jesus and let him lead us in His path. 
       Because, if we put our trust in the Lord, He can lead us over, under, around or through any obstacle that this world has to offer.