A Chosen People

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Isaiah 40:20

Two women stood on the sidewalk in the middle of the night watching their church burn down. One said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you at church.”
Said the other, “Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen the church on fire.”

There was a fire one night at a convent and several retired nuns who lived on the fourth floor were trapped. They were praying for the Lord to show them a way out of the fire when one of the sisters screamed, “We need to take off our robes, tie them together and climb down to safety.” Later as they were recounting the event to reporters, they were asked if they were afraid of the crude rope breaking. “Oh, no,” they said. “You see, old habits are hard to break.”

Jesus said to the believers, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. (John 15:16) Gee, who is Jesus choosing for His Church? A bunch of sinners. Adulterers, Murderers, Pride filled hearts, Liars, Thieves, and Idolaters. Someone said to me, “You’re a good man, Bill McConnell.” And my mind flashes back to all the wrongs I have done. To all the opportunities missed. Yet, I have been choosing by Christ. I came out of the General Assembly meeting several years ago to meet protesters with signs that read, “Fag Church,” simply because the Church wanted an open Table for all sinners. They know nothing of what is going on inside and how difficult this process is for the Church. To the protesters to even address the issue of homosexuality is accepting the sin. To the Church, finding room at the table for people different from ourselves is welcoming all sinners that have been called by Christ. I drive down Kellogg and I see protestors on both sides of the issue. Both sides equally convinced that they have been called by God to be Christians. A young man from a large church in town confronted me about abortion. I told him that I was opposed to abortion but that I was just as convinced that the decision had to be made by the family and not by the state. He questioned my values. I asked him about a 16 year old girl that was a member of his church. She doesn’t come to church anymore since the birth of her baby. My values tell me that it is wrong to tell a girl that she can’t have an abortion and then for me to ostracize her from the community because she has had a baby out of marriage. The past couple of weeks have been very painful for me personally. I discovered that my home church in New Castle, Kentucky, has made a series of poor decisions. People that loved me and nurtured me growing up are now making some of the worst choices I have ever seen. I wrote one of the strongest three page rebukes that I have ever written to my home church’s elders. And as I stand here I know their response will be, “This is what God wants us to do.”

Regular churchgoers live longer than nonchurchgoers, a new study shows.
Researchers studied 21,000 adults for nine years, examining their religious behaviors and other factors, and published the results in the latest issue of Demography Magazine, the Washington Times said: People who attend church regularly could live up to fourteen years longer than those who don’t, the study showed. “Those who never attend church exhibit fifty percent higher risks of mortality over the follow-up period than those who attend most frequently,” researcher Robert Hummer said. “Those who attend weekly or less than once a week display about a twenty percent higher risk of mortality than those who attend more than once a week.” The study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also showed ailments common among those who don’t attend church. “[They] are about four times as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes, or infectious disease,” Hummer said.

I look at that research and then I look in the mirror at all the gray hair that the Church has given me. Jesus said, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18) I am convinced that it will not be an outside source that tears the Church apart. If the Church is to be brought down, it will come from within. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17)

In the Old Testament kings believed that God gave them direction in dreams.
If they wanted to know what they were supposed to do in their administration, they would try to dream and receive a direct word from God. And if they weren’t getting any messages in their dreams while lying in their own beds, they would sleep in the Temple. They believed that it would work better there. There begins the origin of the time-honored tradition of sleeping in church.
A church on the move must confront reality and meet people where they are.
Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination. Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

Isaiah touches my soul. The 40th Chapter of Isaiah starts off with the prophet hearing God say, Comfort, comfort, my people…Does the prophet really have to comfort the believers? Yes, because every last one of them is a sinner melting into the Church as one body. Here we come, all of us, battered and bruised, into the body of Christ.

Here is our problem – we are the Church, the moral teacher of society. It is a problem to teach morality when we ourselves have problems being moral.
And we will always have that problem as long as we subdivide sins. The sin of murder is worse than lying. The sin of adultery is worse than a lack of hospitality. Jesus Himself shatters that thought when He told us that we could murder a person by our tongue. That we could commit sexual immorality just by our very thoughts. Sin is nothing more and nothing less than that which displeases God. Jonah runs away when God calls him to go to Nineveh. What is wrong with that, we ask? Ask someone who is running away from God’s call. It displeases God. The Disciples rub the grain of wheat in their hands on the Sabbath. The Law forbid it. But the Law was given to benefit humanity, not harm.

Isaiah writes, A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Hear the beauty of this word! A man too poor. The carpenter chooses a sound piece of wood.’ He cuts down an ash, a tree which will not rot. Perhaps he chooses a tree which is incorruptible. He who is accustomed to examine, and to judge between the wood which is durable, and the wood that is not. The craftsman knows that there is something better than himself and seeks to find it and worship it. A wise artificer is the believer who will find God. A wood that will not rot nor topple. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The challenge of the Gospel is that we get our eyes off of ourselves and on to God. The phrase, `shall not be moved,’ does not refer so much to being fixed in one place, as to durability and permanency. We don’t talk enough about the cost of Christ. Remember the old song, Power in the Blood? The same blood that redeemed all.

A Cure For Temptation

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Matthew 4:1-11

Six-year-old Tommy entered the kitchen with two pieces of candy in his hand.
“Look Mom, I found two pieces of candy in the drawer.” His mother saw his younger brother following him. “Are you going to share your candy with your brother?” Tommy answered, “I can’t share with him; I only have two pieces of candy, and that’s not enough to share.” Mom was not ready to relent. “Now Tommy, let’s think about this for a minute. Are you sure that is the right thing to do. If Jesus was here right now, what do you think he would do?” Tommy thought for a moment and then answered, “I think that if Jesus was here, he would make two more pieces of candy for my brother.”

In an issue of American Sociological Review, a recent study shows that young married couples have a greater tendency to divorce if they live in an area with a high concentration of singles. They analyzed 2,592 married men and women in their 20s. These participants were interviewed annually for seven years then that data was cross-referenced with the demographics of their area. Those surrounded by greater numbers of available partners had higher divorce rates. Temptation works like that. When the majority of those around us are doing things differently than we are, our temptation to join them increases. Sometimes we need to change the environment we are in, or make certain we have ample support to keep us from being adversely impacted by it.

Temptation is an enticement or invitation to sin, with the implied promise of greater good to be derived from following the way of disobedience. A good example is Adam and Eve in the Garden. In this sense, God does not tempt humanity, nor can God as the holy God be tempted (James 1:13). The supreme tempter is Satan, who is able to play upon the weakness of human nature (James 1:14) and so to lead people to destruction.

The gospel of Jesus Christ directs man to resist temptation, promising blessedness to those who do (James 1:12). In the Old Testament, temptation can best be understood as testing or proving. The Lord tests Israel to prove the true nature of her faithfulness to Him. His purpose is not to induce His people to sin but to confirm their faith. As in the case of Job, Satan the tempter can serve the Lord’s purpose. The story is told of an elderly man who, a number of years ago, had lost his right arm in an accident. At first the trauma of the loss totally destroyed the man’s desire to attend or enter into any sports even though they had been so much a part of his life. All this brought him to severe depression; however, it wasn’t long before a caring friend talked him into a game of handball and he was hooked. Amazingly, as fast as his depression came, he lost it. Within a few years he was considered one of the best handball players in his area and had been in numerous tournaments, always doing well and making the game look so easy. In one tournament he easily won his way into the finals and after making it look so easy, he won the final two games against one of the best players in the game, a man thirty years younger. In an interview with the local newspaper after the match he was asked: “How did you do it?” To this he replied, “Decisions.” Not satisfied with such a simple answer the reporter asked what he meant, “It’s easy; every time the ball was hit to my opponent he had to decide which hand to hit it with, however, when the ball was hit to me . . . it was easy because I had already made my decision.” What would our lives be like if every time adversity or Satan himself puts the ball in our “court” we had already decided how we would return it?

Why is it that opportunity knocks only once yet temptation bangs on the door constantly? Have you ever noticed that everyone has a “home remedy” for something? My father-in-law it was garlic. The person suffering on TV it is Philips. Others it is Vicks Vapo Rub and still others something out of the health food store. There are four (4) cures for temptation!

The first cure is to FLEE. Paul writes, Flee from sexual immorality. (1 Cor 6:18) Paul continues to write to the young Timothy, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Tim 6:11) Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants were inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Gen 39)

Secondly, the gospel also directs us to pray for deliverance from exposure to temptation and from surrender to it (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4). Several years ago, Dr. Ruth Berenda and a group of fellow psychologists rediscovered the dramatic power of societal pressure. In an experiment they invited ten teenagers into a room where three charts were displayed. Each chart had three lines of different lengths. The group members were asked to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on each chart. One teen in each group did not know that the other nine teens had been instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the second longest line. The lone teen frequently looked somewhat confused but cast a wrong vote with the other nine students. Dr. Berenda’s data revealed that 75% of the teens allowed peer pressure to override their own better judgment. We all need the affirmation to choose what is right rather than what is popular. Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end out of line. You can stay on the road if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tightly. Any lapse of attention, however, and you head straight for the ditch. Society in general-educators, political leaders, parents-exhorts us to drive straight and curb our destructive tendencies. Coming to Christ is a little like getting a front-end alignment. The pull toward the ditch is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel.

Thirdly, the Lord will not allow His people to encounter temptation beyond their Spirit-given ability to resist (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Peter 2:9). A man consulted a psychiatrist. He complained, “I’ve been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me.” The doctor asked, “And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?” The fellow replied, “Well, no, I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.” Researchers at Duke University Medical Center studied 1700 older Americans and discovered that those who regularly attended religious services had stronger immune responses than those who did not. Blood tests showed that attending church raised their level of immunity against disease. So believers are healthier in body as well as soul! Of course, attending church will never give you immunity from temptation, but it will make your resistance to temptation much stronger and you will be far less likely to yield to it.

Fourth, is memory. The ceiling of New York’s Grand Central Terminal recently received a $4.4 million cleaning. In October of 1995, Marina Yashina and Mary Flinn started cleaning the 1945 mural under which half a million people walk, or run, to catch trains each day. They removed fifty-two years of residue from diesel fumes, cigarette smoke, steel dust, and floating dirt. In one spot they found a half-inch-thick layer of grime. But these two artists didn’t want their work to go unnoticed so they left a spot. They purposefully did not clean an 8-by-3-foot section of the mural. Marina Yashina, a Moscow native who helped restore the Kremlin, said, “If we don’t leave something dirty, people will forget how it looked before.” Our testimony should be something like that old train station’s cleaned mural. We need to remember just enough of our life without Christ so we won’t be tempted to return to the filth of our sin.

The Withering Hand

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First Kings 13:1-6

Around 960 B.C. Jeroboam became the first king of Israel (Northern Kingdom). On one occasion when leaving Jerusalem, he encountered Ahijah, “the prophet” of the ancient sanctuary of Shiloh. Ahijah stripped off his new outer garment and tore it into twelve pieces, ten of which he gave to Jeroboam with the assurance that, on obedience to His laws, God would establish for him a kingdom and dynasty equal to that of David (vv. 29-39). Jeroboam probably began to form plots and conspiracies, for Solomon sought to take his life. He fled to Egypt, where he received the protection of Pharaoh Shishak. He remained there until the death of Solomon (v. 40), about 926 B.C.

Upon the accession of Rehoboam, Jeroboam appears to have headed a deputation that asked for a redress of grievances. The harsh answer of Rehoboam inevitably caused a revolution, and Jeroboam was called to be “king over all Israel” (12:1-20). The policy of Jeroboam was to bring about a religious as well as political disruption of the kingdom. He therefore sought to discourage the yearly pilgrimages to the Temple at Jerusalem. To this end, he established shrines at Dan and Bethel. He set up “two golden calves,” doubtless thought of, according to a widespread Semitic custom of viewing deities enthroned on the backs of animals, as representing Jehovah’s invisible presence and established a priesthood for his crown (1 Kings 12:26-33).

While he was officiating at the altar, a man of God appeared and prophesied the coming of King Josiah, who would one day burn the bones of its ministers upon that altar. Jeroboam attempted to arrest the man. When the arm that he stretched forth was dried up, in answer to the prayer of the man of God he was healed (13:1-10). Jeroboam continued his idolatrous practices, making “priests of the high places from among all the people” (13:33), and his rebellion soon brought about the extinction of his dynasty.

Martin Luther once said, Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works. Leonard Sweet said that his Gramma taught him five principles of good gardening. Don’t get rid of your seed corn. There’s no use watering last year’s crops. Feed the soil and the soil will feed you in return.
Rain is not something you should always come out of. God doesn’t settle all accounts in October.

They are principles of growing a soul which we chase away at the cost of a boomeranging stampede. Jesus tells a story of a farmer who went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.
It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil.

God disciplines us because God loves us. How we react to that discipline determines our destiny.

On April 4, 1896, the literary digest recorded the actual account of a Mediterranean whale that demolished a harpoon boat and two men were lost. After the whale was captured one-and-a-half days later, one of the men, James Bartley, was found alive in the whale’s belly. He was swallowed alive with all his senses in conscious working order and transmitting every new feeling, sensation and experience to the central intelligence module in his brain. He was still able to see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and think. Sperm whales have no teeth so they must rely on the highly caustic, gastric fluids to dissolve their food. The intestinal liquids are composed of strong digestive chemicals which are corrosive, scalding, and burning to the flesh. These sour, bitter, and bleach-like juices singe the skin raw, scorch the eyes, dissolve the hair, and stimulate a burning that is relative to a raging furnace of fire. Hallucinations, delirium, and disorientation tormented his mind in the pitch-black, dreary, and lightless midnights that seemed like a thousand eternities in outer darkness.

Jonah too was swallowed by a whale in an act of discipline by God. To fuel the flame of affliction, Jonah found no sleep, rest, or repose for seventy-two jumpy, jittery, and hyper-anxious hours. There was no pause, intermission, recess, break, or calm. The ancient record declares, “Then Jonah prayed” (Jonah 2:1). When Jonah prayed, he submitted to the will of God and received the message that brought Nineveh to her knees.

Sometimes bad things happen for all the right reasons. A little boy is telling his Grandma how “everything” is going wrong. School, family problems, severe health problems, etc. Meanwhile, Grandma is baking a cake. She asks her grandson if he would like a snack, which of course he does. “Here, have some cooking oil.” “Yuck” says the boy. “How about a couple raw eggs? ”
“Gross, Grandma!” “Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?”
“Grandma, those are all yucky!” To which Grandma replies: “Yes, all those things seem bad all by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake!”

God works the same way. Many times we wonder why he would let us go through such bad and difficult times. But God knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful!”

When the Only Way Out is Through

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Ephesians 2:1-10

Jell-O turns 121 this year and the story surrounding its inventor is truly ironic. In 1897, Pearl Wait wore several hats. He was a construction worker who dabbled in patent medicines and sold his ailment remedies door-to-door.
In the midst of his tinkering he hit upon the idea of mixing fruit flavoring with granulated gelatin. His wife named it “Jell-O” and Wait had one more product to peddle. Unfortunately, sales weren’t as strong as he’d hoped, so in 1899, Pearl Wait sold his Jell-O rights to Orator Woodward for $450. Woodward knew the value of marketing so within just eight brief years, Wait’s neighbor turned a $450 investment into a $1 million business. Today, not a single relative of Pearl Wait receives royalties from the 1.1 million boxes of Jell-O that are sold each day. Why? Because Wait just couldn’t wait.

Jesus tells the story of ten virgins. Ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
(It is almost like saying that the Christian walk is a 50/50 preposition, half will finish and half will not.) The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The Christian journey is a long journey. It is a difficult journey, not easy. Jesus says (In both Matthew and Mark) All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Showing not only the difficulty but the expectation. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: `Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “`No,’ they replied, `there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

There are many times that I have told God that it would have been much easier if He had sent His Son as soon as Adam and Eve sinned. Yet it has been a long journey for God’s people. We have found that we could not just follow our own consciences. We could not just be obedient to a government. We failed at keeping a personal covenant. We did not honor the Law. So, now we stand in the love of God’s grace.

Zech 9:12-13 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Prisoners of hope? Sometimes I feel like a prisoner of hope. When life is good, it is nice to be alive and part of it, but what about when things are not good? Job was a happy man-rich, lots of children, good friends, until God started messing in his life. But Job was blind to the amount of pride in his life. Jonah was a happy man, probably wealthy, and very influential but not obedient until God put him into some difficulty.

You and I sometimes have difficulty understand how a loving God can watch His children go through difficult times. Why doesn’t God just bail everyone out of the trouble they find themselves in? It is not difficult for God to perform a miracle or two and solve the problem. But in the course of that intervention, what do we learn? The same lesson that a child learns when Mom and Dad are always bailing them out, nothing. The child learns about real life by living real life. I am sure that it is far more painful for God not to intervene into our lives.

I am mindful of the prayer: Give me the serenity to accept what can’t be changed, the courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance is powerful in its own right. We are not some pawn trapped between the war of God and Satan. What Paul is telling us in our lesson is that God’s grace turns the experience of making it through into some real break through. God may not bail us out but God gives us a wonderfully refreshing, nourishing, replenishing breakthrough!

Going a little farther, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Were You There To Find Out Who Is the Greatest?

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Mark 9:33-37

The passage exposes a real male thing! I have noticed at the “Y” where I work out that there are mirrors on the wall all the way around the exercise equipment and weights. I could see the purpose was to make sure you have the proper form. But it is interesting to notice the guys who will watch themselves in the mirrors…flexing their muscles admiring their bodies.

“What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Nearly 200 years ago there were two Scottish brothers named John and David Livingstone. John set his mind on making money and becoming wealthy, and he did. But under his name in the “Encyclopedia Britannica” John Livingstone is listed simply as “the brother of David Livingstone.” And who was David Livingstone? While John had dedicated himself to making money, David had knelt and prayed. Surrendering himself to Christ, he resolved, “I will place no value on anything I have or possess unless it is in relationship to the Kingdom of God.” The inscription over his burial place in Westminster Abbey reads, “For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize.”

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” I discovered a political shocker a few years ago. It happened in Colorado.
Laurie Bower, a Democrat, withdrew from the state senate election on November 1… and endorsed her Republican opponent! “What gives,” you ask — me too. Here’s what I understand Ms. Bower said: “It is my personal opinion that he is in a better position to help the people of this district. So I put aside the partisan differences.” I searched for a reason. “Well,” I thought, “she just wanted to avoid a losing campaign; or she found something better to do than the state senate; or she was bought off; or a scandal was brewing.” Well, in the charged climate of modern public relations, you think about this stuff, don’t you? I was left in the final analysis with a simple explanation. Laurie Bower is genuinely interested in the people of her district. That seems too simple, too straightforward. But not too good to be true, it turns out. Think of it: a public official more interested in the people of her district than in her own personal advancement. It’s not a new idea, you know.

Archbishop Secker used to say, “God has three sorts of servants in the world:
some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons, who serve because they love.”

Some places have a surface well that you have to pump and then water starts coming. Those who live as slaves or respond out of fear live like this well. As long as you pumped, the water would come — but when you stopped, so would it. You also had to leave a little in a mason jar to prime the pump to get it going the next time. It was just a surface well. There are people like that, Christians who need to be primed, pumped, pleaded or begged to do anything.

Hirelings serve for wages. At Princeton Seminary an Ethics professor asked for volunteers for an extra assignment. At two o’clock, fifteen students gathered at Speer Library. There he divided the group of fifteen into three groups of five each. The first group of five was given an envelope telling them to proceed immediately across campus to Stewart Hall, that they had fifteen minutes to get there and if they didn’t arrive on time it would affect their grade. A minute or two later he handed out envelopes to five others. Their instructions again were to go over to Stewart Hall but they were given 45 minutes. After they departed he turned over the envelopes with instructions to the third group, the ‘Low Hurry’ group. They were given three hours to arrive at Stewart Hall. Not known to any of these students, the teacher had arranged with three students from the Princeton University Drama Department to meet them along the way, acting as people in great need. In front of Alexander Hall one of the drama students was going around covering his head with his hands and moaning out loud in great pain. As they passed by Miller Chapel on their way to Stewart Hall they’d find one fellow who was on the steps laying face down as if unconscious. And finally on the very steps of Stewart Hall the third drama student was acting out an epileptic seizure. It’s interesting that, of the first group, no one stopped, of the second, two of the five stopped, and of the third fivesome all five stopped.

There is another kind of well, an artesian well. When you want to get water out of that kind of well you just connect up to it and then it flows and flows when you turn on the spigot. People can be like that. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they are looking for places to minister and share. They are ready and waiting to reach out. The difference is that some want to serve, others want to be served. The one responding in love is the artesian well.

You have your gifts not so much for your own sake but for the sake of others.
You are like an apple tree which produces fruit not for its own consumption but for the consumption of others. Your gifts are given so you can bless others by ministering to them. If you have the gift of teaching, you have it so others in the Body will be taught. If you have the gift of hospitality, it is because others need the gracious welcome they receive from you. If even one gifted person fails to function, the Body of Christ is deprived of a ministry it needs to function well.

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you. Dale Carnegie

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the other ten disciples heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Were you there to find out that Jesus was the greatest of all?

Were You There When He Was Transfigured?

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Mark 9:2-13

Some years ago, I stood beside a creek, where a little five-year-old friend was playing. Noticing a bunch of tadpoles, I scooped one up in my hand and showed it to him. “See this tadpole–it will turn into a frog.” He looked up at me with a wrinkled brow, shook his finger at me and repeated forcefully, “No, it won’t!” When I thought about what I’d described, it was pretty hard to believe! The process is called “metamorphosis” in biology, the changing of one natural form into another. It is the same Greek word used in the Gospels to describe the transfiguration. When it comes to understanding this, we are all spiritual five-year-olds.

Jesus had been in the area of Caesarea Philippi. After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

It is very difficult for us to understand God. But Jesus is God – somehow in our minds we like to separate the Son and the Father and make them two different persons. But Jesus is God!

There are several points that take place we do not want to miss. In the transformation, Jesus’ clothes get dazzling white. It shows the purity of God.
God is without sin. In Revelation, God is portrayed on the throne in dressed in white for power and justice. Then a cloud appears that covers Jesus and the two prophets. The cloud has always represented the presence of God. When Israel was wandering in the wilderness a cloud journeyed with them everywhere they went. The cloud shielded them from the heat during the day. It became a pillar of fire to warm them at night. When Solomon dedicates the Temple in Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord fills the temple with the presence of the cloud. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Two men who have unusual deaths. Moses who dies alone on top of a mountain overlooking the promised land. God buries Moses’ and then sends an angel to get his body. Elijah who does not die at all but is taken up in a chariot to Heaven. Elijah never tasted death.

An eleven year old young man named Landon stood in front of his mom one day and said, “I wish I could write a letter to Luke.” His mother could see the tears her son was holding back. Nine months earlier, Landon’s friend Luke had died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. Landon’s grief was deep, unreachable. His mother longed to ease his pain, though she could do nothing except hold him when he wept. She thought, maybe writing a letter was a good idea. She handed Landon paper and colored pencils. “Tell Luke how much you miss him and how much you love him. Tell him you haven’t forgotten him.”

Landon wrote the letter. A long one. The completed paper was a work of art. He wrote each line in a different color and carefully drew an elaborate border around the edge. It was a love letter …a message from earth to heaven. Landon folded the paper carefully, and together they asked God to give Luke its message. But somehow, that wasn’t enough. “What I really want to do is tie my letter to a balloon,” said Landon. “I know it can’t really get to heaven, but…” He left the sentence unfinished.

His mother drove him to the store. There, Landon chose a neon pink helium balloon to carry his letter. Then they drove up a steep butte at the edge of town. It was peaceful on top, offering an endless view of high desert and mountains. A gentle breeze was blowing, and when Landon released the balloon, it instantly danced away from his fingers. They watched it silently.
Up, up, up. It climbed quickly as if it knew the importance of the mission.
“I wish something would happen so I could know God got the letter,” Landon said. His mother wished something would happen, too, but her practical side spoke, assuring Landon God would give Luke the message regardless of what happened to the balloon. “I know, but I still wish I could see something…” Landon said.

The sky was covered with thick, heavy clouds, and the balloon grew smaller and smaller as they watched. Then suddenly, just as the balloon was leaving their vision, an opening appeared in the clouds. The balloon sailed through.
They stood there speechless. “Did you see that, Mom?” Landon whispered reverently. “God got my balloon.” And as they drove back down the butte, his mother knew the message had been delivered.

It is hard to imagine what Jesus looked like when He was transfigured, or changed in form. A display of God’s glory in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Sometimes our faith needs the “shot-in-the-arm.” A transfiguration can bring the needed courage that our faith calls for.

The Transfiguration concludes with God’s voice speaking from the cloud which marked God’s presence. The same words where spoken at Christ’s baptism and a continuing reminder of God’s presence with them. For there is coming a time when in the clouds we will see the Master!

Finding Tolerance In Diversity

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Colossians 3:12-14

Mark Twain once said, “All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats know it. When I look around me, I am often troubled to see how many people are mad. This should move us to be charitable towards one another’s lunacies.

Two men were discussing the origin of the Christian Church. One of the men said, That’s easy! We Disciples got started with Alexander Campbell.” The second man disagreed, “The Disciples began long before that time. Don’t you remember when Abraham and Lot were surveying the land of Canaan? They walked together for a long time, over the hills, across the streams, through the valleys. Then Abraham said to Lot, ‘All right, you go your way and I’ll go mine.’ That’s when the Disciples got started!”

There can be no freedom or fulfillment apart from submission to Jesus Christ. “The purpose of life,” said P. T. Forsyth, “is not to find your freedom, but to find your master.”

During the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, I worked in construction. As with most construction workers, by the end of the day you were dirty and you smelled bad. The drug store in my small home town closed at 6:00. So I had to come directly from work to the drug store to pick up a prescription. A lady standing next to me at the counter was obviously disturbed by my presence. I remember when she left the store, the workers in the drug store saying, “That is honorable dirt.”

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matt 23:27) We don’t know all of the story! But God does. The next time you see a guy with a ponytail, you might feel more tolerant if you can remember George Washington had one of those too.

Dr. James Dobson quoted educator, Rene Voeltzel when he said, “We must not look too soon in the child for the person he will later become.” In both the physical and spiritual realm, we must look beyond the present to see in others what God knows they can become through His Son, Jesus Christ. We live in a pluralistic society that is growing more and more pluralistic. I am an active member of a local civic group. I was asked to make arrangements for the opening prayers for each meeting. Now, this is a group that has a diverse background of people. There was a big debate about ending prayers “in the name of Jesus.”

How do we live with pluralism in our society? We live with Judaism, Muslim, Buddhism, Hinduism and many others. How do we live in the world but not of this world?

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

In Paul’s message to the Areopagus we find a lot of “tolerance.” It is not that Paul agrees with all of the status given to the various gods. But Paul goes out of his way not to condemn those who are there that day in the Areopagus. Yet, neither does he justify all of the idols. There is a “tolerance” of all the idols so that Paul may witness to the people and so that there may be peace.

Tolerance or charity is what is due all of those who see things (especially of faith) differently than we do. Enough blood has been spilt over religious intolerance. Just because we are tolerance or extend charity, in no way does it means that we condone or accept that point of view. What it does mean is that we live in a diverse world and every one of us it entitled to his/her belief.

A restaurant patron seemed particularly bothered about the temperature in the restaurant. He complained to his waiter that it was too cold and the waiter needed to turn down the air conditioner. The waiter told the patron he would do so immediately. A few minutes later the patron complained that it was now too hot. The waiter apologized and told the irate patron that he would make a slight adjustment to the air conditioner. These temperature complaints and slight adjustments happened several more times during the course of the evening. A man at another table asked the waiter how he could be so patient with the constantly changing whims of this dissatisfied patron. The waiter shrugged his shoulder and said that it was simple. “By the way,” the waiter added, “this restaurant does not even have an air conditioner!”

Charity is the ability to let your light shine even though your fuse is blown.
In my civic club, I told each person to pray in the manner that they were most comfortable. Tolerance means that I accept their prayer. Tolerance doesn’t mean that I dilute my prayer to accommodate everyone else. Our prayer is to our God. When I am doing the talking or praying, I am talking to God as I understand God. Sometimes I am the guest and I am listening in on someone else praying in their way.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.