message - Frances Jones - Mar 10, 2019Armed and Dangerous Luke 4: 1-13
Do you ever get caught off guard in a confrontation with another person? Sometimes we are taken by surprise when we experience an unpleasant or a challenging encounter, and we look for the right words – the proper defense.
In our Scripture reading from Luke's gospel we heard once again about Jesus' confrontations with the tempter while spending some alone-time in the wilderness. This was a location where Jesus might have hoped for some solitude for the purpose of quiet reflection after being filled with the Holy Spirit immediately following his baptism. It was now time to prepare for his upcoming ministry.
But here, even in this desolate place, Jesus was interrupted - not once, but three different times, by an opposing spirit whose main purpose was to test Jesus' allegiance. Could it convert him; turn Jesus from following God's plan for him?
First, the test of self-indulgence – in this case, satisfying his hunger by using his own power to turn stones to bread. In another, the test of self-empowerment - to pursuade Jesus to rely on his own abilities to become ruler over all – to do things his way. There was only one stipulation. All Jesus had to do was to devote himself to this tempter, putting it first and foremost in his life. By allowing it to be in the driver's seat; to call the shots; it would be planning the agenda from that moment on. And then the final test was for Jesus to actually put his heavenly Father to the test. Did God really mean what he promised? If he hurled himself from a cliff, would he really send angels to come to his rescue? One way to find out. Why not try it to see if it works?
But Jesus knew better than to fall for any of the cunning ways of his opposition. Instead, he used the only weapons of defense he had. He was armed - with the Holy Spirit and the truths from the Word of God. 'Armed and dangerous' indeed for this particular encounter. Proving to his tempter, by every word and action that he was indeed the Son of God, this tempter could not claim a victory against Jesus.
But Jesus' provocotive tempter was cunning; also 'armed and dangerous'. In my opinion, very dangerous, because he not only was able to quote from Scripture, but what he quoted were half-truths, stating only the parts of the Word that supported his intentions.
Have we ever experienced such encounters; where someone tries to prove their point by quoting only the section of Scripture that supports their argument? Or, maybe the confrontation wasn't with another, but within ourselves.
Don't you find that we need to constantly be on our guard against becoming over-confident in our work for the Lord? Self-indulgence manoeuvres its way in and tries to convince us that we can interpret God's Word to suit ourselves. Self-empowerment causes individuals to misuse the powers they possess, all in the name of religion. And, maybe we make the decision to cut corners and not to do things exactly as instructed by God, but we choose to take another route - because it would be so much easier and, surely God would understand, and see things our way.
After reading these verses from Luke's gospel, I believe the question I must ask myself is, just how loyal am I? How far do my devotions go? Am I never tempted to put myself in the driver's seat; to make my own decisions; to write my own agendas? It's my life, after all!
All of these tests that Jesus endured went beyond just satisfying or empowering himself. And we are faced with the same tests today. Will we serve God, or another?Does God's will for us really come first and foremost in our lives? What would it take for us to give our allegiance to another? Imagine what might have happened if Jesus had given in to just one of these temptations or tests.
By enduring all that he encountered, Jesus was enabled to sympathize with our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our shortcomings. I believe he was able to realize how our faith and our loyalty to God can be so cunningly challenged.
So, let's remember the Boy Scouts' motto: Be prepared!. We too can be 'armed and dangerous' when our allegiance to God is tested. We might be unable to find the Scripture quotation that we need on the spur of the moment in order to defend ourselves as Jesus did. But, if we can only remember one, let us always bring to mind this quote from 1 John 4:4 “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”.
Message - Frances Jones - Feb. 24, 2019 Shine It Forward Two years ago I delivered a message concerning this very special sermon known as the sermon on the mount. As Jesus spoke at length to his disciples, along with any others who chose to listen, he concentrated his entire message on what I like to refer to as the 'be' attitudes. One thing that we noticed about Jesus' sermon was the positiveness of it compared to the whole list of 'do nots' of the Ten Commandments, or the Laws of Moses. Jesus was delivering a new covenant, reassuring his followers that his message was not meant to abolish the old law, but to fulfil it. It's like telling a young child, 'don't touch the stove', or 'don't play in the road', 'don't eat that', without explaining why. As Jesus continued his very long message, he explained to his listeners why they should not do this or that as he touched on subjects such as an eye for an eye, loving enemies, adultery, and passing judgement on others, just to name a few. Today there is a question I would like us to ponder. When Jesus instructed his listeners about being poor in spirit, and meek; and about being peacemakers, and merciful, do you think he meant that this was the way to be saved, or was this the way the saved ought to be? Even though the recommended reading for today was Luke's version of the 'be' attitudes, I chose instead to discuss what was written in Matthew's gospel for Jesus' famous sermon. Compared to Luke, Matthew included more topics that Jesus covered as he continued his teaching there on the mount. It's when we read the entire length of the 5th chapter of Matthew, followed by the 6th, and then the 7th in its entirety, that we realize just how long this sermon must have been. That's only 109 verses of Jesus speaking about the expectations of anyone choosing to follow him. Don't panic! Today we will review just a small fraction of that very special sermon, and I'll leave the rest for you to read. Do you think that Jesus was cramming a whole lot of information into the time he had with them? Concerning how they were to live as citizens of the kingdom of God, there was so much to teach and so little time. So, while he had their attention, Jesus kept teaching, covering topic after topic. Matthew 7: 1-5 I have to admit that personally this is a tough message. I had to ask myself, 'how many days go by that I don't act as judge, jury and executioner', especially after listening to the latest news on the radio or T.V. However we consume the media, we are bombarded with information, including people's opinions on everything from how a certain country is being governed to what so-and-so was wearing on the red carpet. We love to express our opinions. Lines are blazing on the radio talk shows as people call in, wanting to be heard. Text messages pour in with people expressing their points of view on a meriad of subjects. The question: 'do I want to be judged the same way that I'm judging that other individual?' Occasionally, in the classroom at school, there would be a specific child or adolescent who would habitually demonstrate (we'll call it unpleasant) conduct. The natural instinct is to refer to this kid as a disturber, a brat, a nuisance. In reality, do we know the reason they are acting out? What's life like at home? Were there unpleasantries within the family that morning? Was there frustration over running out of bread or milk, or that someone took the last piece of toilet paper? And, what happened on their bus ride to school? So many unknowns. Sometimes we are ready to make a quick judgment based only on what we've seen or heard, even if it's only a part of the whole story. Do we want that same treatment from others for us? Do you remember your parents telling you, 'keep your own back yard clean before you look at your neighbour's yard'. And that is usually enough to keep us busy. ~ ~ ~ Jesus taught his listeners to love their enemies. Matthew 5: 43-48 Does this sound like what they had heard from the Teachers of the Law? They were to love their neighbour and hate their enemy, or so they thought. Love your enemies? How easy is that? If we are being persecuted (slandered or mistreated) in some way by another individual, it hurts. In reality, we may tolerate them, mind our manners and try to be polite, but love them? Jesus' solution was to pray for them. You know that person who gets under your skin, rubs you the wrong way, makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, and your blood pressure to go sky-high. . . Jesus' answer is to put them in God's hands as we pray for them. We may never know what effect this will have on that person, but for us, it unloads an unnecessary burden. ~ ~ ~ Finally, I'd like to touch on Jesus' instructions concerning salt and light. Matthew 5: 13-16 As they sat or stood before Jesus, his listeners heard that they were the salt of the earth. 'Really – salt? How can that be?' They knew that salt was a commodity that could have been used as offerings; as currency; even for medicinal purposes. It relieved stings, bites and itchy rashes. (And, from experience with this cold, I know that's it's also good for gargling to relieve a sore throat!). These listeners were also aware that salt was useful as a preservative, to avoid spoilage and decay. And, as a seasoning used in cooking, salt makes an otherwise dull or bland meal quite savoury. Salt was in high demand, a precious commodity indeed. Was Jesus saying that they too were a precious commodity to his mission? They were warned, however, that salt that is no longer salty is good for absolutely nothing. It's worthless. What is Jesus saying about those of us who no longer act as peacemakers by relieving irritations within the community; or do not preserve against corruption, like false doctrines; or who make the choice not to spread some seasoning around by enhancing the worship with our presence and our support? Being referred to as the salt of the earth? Food for thought! ~ ~ ~
Jesus also referred to his listeners as the light of the world. We don't realize how much we miss the light, until we find ourselves in complete, or even partial, darkness. After many short, cloudy winter days when we the sun rises late and sets early, we tend to feel a bit droopy and we lack energy. Also, when the power goes off suddenly, the first thing we do is scurry around, groping to find a flashlight, hoping it has batteries that work. Or we search for some candles just to spread a little light in order to cut through the darkness. But, what if our neighbour is also in darkness and has no flashlight or candles? Jesus said nothing about keeping that light to ourselves. Quite the contrary! As members of the kingdom of God, we are expected to let that light shine so it's visible all around. God's light shining through us just might allow others to benefit from its glow. We like to believe that we have a light inside us that reveals who we are and whose we are. In reality, just how easy is it to let this light shine in all circumstances? We get irritated – by events; at times, by people. We allow cares, worries, burdens and concerns of all kinds, to interfere with this light until it is practically snuffed out.
We could be surprised where we might find this light shining in order to brighten our path. God's light can be found in some unexpected places. Here's a little story of a man named Joe who humbly let his light shine.
“Make Me Like Joe”, by Tony Campolo (From Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul)
Quote: “If you think you can't make a difference, think again.”
Joe was a drunk who was miraculously converted at a mission house. Prior to his conversion, Joe had gained the reputation of being a hopeless dirty wino for whom there was no hope, only a miserable existence in the ghetto. But following his conversion to a new life with God, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission, doing whatever needed to be done. There was never any task that was too lowly for Joe to take on. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit left by some violently sick person or scrubbing the toilets after careless men left the men's room filthy, Joe did what he could with a smile on his face and a seeming gratitude for the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed feeble men who wandered into the mission off the street, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too out of it to take care of themselves. One evening, when the mission director was delivering his evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads, one man looked up, came down the aisle to the alter and knelt to pray. He cried out for God to help him to change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Please, God, make me like Joe!” The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, “Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, 'Make me like Jesus'. The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, “Is he like Joe?”
~ ~ ~
When I read this story, I wondered if Joe had listened to the Hank Williams song, 'I Saw the Light'. Some of the words are:
Just like a blind man I wandered along Worries and fears I claimed for my own Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight Praise the Lord I saw the light.
As we end our discussion for this morning, let us take a moment to think about someone (possibly a very unexpected someone) who has helped to illuminate our path. Sometimes when we go to visit a patient in the hospital, or a shut-in, we go with the intention of brightening their day, when in fact, it's our day that's brightened by them.
There was so much for these disciples of Jesus to comprehend from this 'special delivery' of the sermon on the mount. And we still have lots to learn in order to be light in dark places. What can we learn from the repentant beggar; from the non-judgmental individual who shows mercy instead of condemnation; and from the peacemaker who builds a bridge between us and our adversaries? As they are casting light upon us, let us shine it forward, casting his light for others.
Message - Frances Jones - Feb. 17, 2019 “When Jesus Climbs Aboard” Luke 5: 1-11
Can't we just picture the scene as it was described here in Luke's gospel? Probably since sunrise, throngs of people had been following Jesus around, even pressing up against him, as they tried to be near enough to touch him; to be the one closest to him in order to hear his every word; to feel the touch of his healing hand, or just to reach out and touch his clothing. No doubt Jesus was feeling the pressure from the demands of the crowds.
As he approached the lake, Jesus saw out of the corner of his eye, two fishing boats up on the shore. He climbed into the one that belonged to a man called Simon, a long-time fisherman. Simon knew this lake like the back of his hand, and from experience, he knew where he could get the best results for his efforts.
While continuing to clean his fishing nets, Simon's thoughts were interrupted by a strange voice. It wasn't his brother, Andrew, nor was it either of his two fishing partners, James or John. When he turned around to see who it was, he saw Jesus right there aboard his fishing vessel. “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch”, Jesus instructed.
Of all days, this was not a good time to make this request of Simon. He certainly was not ready to put out into the deep, nor to let his nets down. He and his fishing partners had just spent the entire night out on the lake, but had nothing to show for their labour. They had returned empty-handed, or 'empty-netted'. No fish to eat. No fish to sell. Needless to say, they were very unhappy and discouraged.
In his mind, Simon must have questioned Jesus' reasoning. How could anything good come from doing as Jesus said? First of all, they had been out all night long and had caught absolutely nothing. And, as an established and experienced fisherman, Simon knew well that the brightness of day was not the best time to catch fish. They had always got their best catch at night when it was cooler and the fish surfaced to feed. Finally, Simon knew that it would be fruitless to fish in deep waters. Fish were easier to catch in shallower water where they fed. And, besides all that, Simon was busy! He had no fish to clean, but there were plenty of dirty nets that needed cleaning.
“Are you serious?” That is probably what Simon wanted to exclaim. But, for some reason ,the unexpected happened. Simon replied to Jesus' request, “If you say so, I'll let down the nets”. I wonder if this fisherman was curious about what the results would be by doing as Jesus asked, or did he just want to prove that Jesus was wrong about how to catch fish?
Out in the deep water, in the brightness of day, Simon witnessed something he probably wouldn't have believed if he hadn't been there to see it for himself. His eyes must have practically popped out of his head. His jaw must have dropped as he stood there with his mouth wide open, gasping at this awesome sight. The nets expanded, and expanded some more, stretching to the breaking point! So many fish! First filling one boat, and then a second vessel, to overflowing. Both fishing boats were on the verge of sinking from the load. It was indeed a miracle!
Simon had been so sure of himself – certain that Jesus' directions could not be correct. But, after experiencing Jesus' power first hand, Simon responded, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”.
Right there in his fishing vessel, on the lake that he knew so well, Simon experienced a transformation. His doubtfulness became belief. And, immediately, he felt the need to express and to confess his own unworthiness to his Lord – a humbling experience for Simon to fall down on his knees in front of Jesus.
I imagine that this fisherman called Simon must have been trembling with fear as he knelt before his Lord, because Jesus saw the need for reassurance as he spoke to Simon. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people”, Jesus said. What?!
We don't know whether these fishermen understood what Jesus meant by that statement or not; however, what they did comprehend was the necessity and the urgency to leave everything and follow him. They had been called! Whatever that meant for them, this would be the first day of the rest of their lives. Experienced, seasoned fishermen were about to follow a very different path, leaving behind the familiar to face the unknown in order to follow their Lord.
Wouldn't you and I find such a decision very challenging indeed? Would we be able to leave what we are familiar with, what we know about and are comfortable with, to travel the path unknown? Many individuals have already taken that leap of faith, searching for a better life.
These fishermen didn't know whether this new path that they were invited to travel would be easy or challenging. There was no pre-planning. Where would this road take them? Would they face adversities ? So much was unknown, and yet they were not reluctant to answer Jesus' call.
Tom has an expression, “If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.” This reminds me of a personal story. I remember from many years ago, (when I was just a young lass), I was outside playing in the yard near the open garage when I kept hearing this buzzing sound followed by a little ping.
As I wandered over to where the sound was coming from, I noticed that a bee had flown into the garage and was trying desperately to free itself. This poor little creature made several attempts by slamming its body against the window over and over again. After flying around inside the garage for a while, it would then crash against the window again,thinking that thistime it might work. But it didn't.
Repeating this same exercise over and over again in order to free itself, he bee kept getting the same results; that is, until it finally discovered that it could try something else. Nothing was keeping the bee imprisoned inside the garage. Finally realizing that it had another choice, the bee simply flew through the open door and was free.
Today we read about Simon, the fisherman who had always done things a certain way – his way. Sometimes his way worked; other times, not so much. He too realized that there was another way to accomplish a task. Simon found out that Jesus' way went beyond merely completing the task at hand. He provided an abundance of fish – nets overflowing.
Simon, however, was not the only disciple whom Jesus called who experienced transformations. Philip was described as a practical person who used logic to solve problems. But one day he learned a miraculous way to feed a huge crowd of 5000. And Philip's close friend, Nathaniel, was the one who, at first, questioned whether anythinggood could come from that little town of Nazareth.
Matthew, the hated tax-collector, had no chance of gaining any respect, or of having decent friends, because he was a detested publican, a Jew who worked for the enemy. He collected taxes from his own people on behalf of the Roman government. It was a lucrative position, but when Jesus appeared and said, “Follow me”, Matthew too left all that behind.
I read in John MacArthur's book, Twelve Ordinary Men, that one of the disciples later called by Jesus was an ambitious man known as Simon the Zealot. Apparently he had been an active member of a violent, militant political group known as the Zealots. He possessed fierce loyalties to this cause – that is, until Jesus befriended him. Once Jesus became a part of his life, Simon also was transformed. His passion, courage and zeal were refocused and were now expressed in his devotion to Christ.
We believe that Jesus had several followers; some who stayed loyal to him, and others who found the road just too difficult to travel. But there were twelve specially-called individuals whom Jesus invited to follow him who remained, for the most part, loyal. Each one was unique, possessing his own personality, strengths and weaknesses.
We notice that not one of Jesus' faithful disciples was called from the religious community; there were none referred to as belonging to the religious elite, to the Scribes, the Pharisees or the Teachers of the Law. Why do you suppose that was? Were the religious leaders too spiritually blind? Were they unable or unwilling to see Jesus as the promised Messiah?
These ordinary men whom Jesus called had no special credentials. They were not trained leaders, missionaries, or teachers. They were by no means perfect. Each one had his individual hang-ups – pessimism, foot-in-mouth disorder, arrogance, prejudice. They experienced fear, loss, and discouragement just as we do. But their devotion to their teacher and Lord outweighed their incompetencies. And, with patient and compassionate instruction, they became loyal students of Jesus – listening, watching, learning – and finally becoming transformed from ordinary to extraordinary; from regular guys to individuals who turned the world upside down.
Jesus was not seeking perfection that day that he climbed aboard Simon's fishing boat, and I don't believe he is looking for perfection today.
The one thing I believe we need to ask ourselves is – will we, like Simon, respond to his instructions with, “If you say so, Lord”, when Jesus climbs aboard our vessel?