Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

God's Glory, Woman's Victory

Posted by on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 @ 12:07 PM

Everything was supposed to be GREAT once the Israelite entered into the Promised Land after Moses led them through the wilderness for 40 years and Joshua led them to victory and conquest.

Unfortunately, it was anything but great. It was a trial, it was a struggle, it was full of suffering…   and most of it was caused by the Israelites themselves: “they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals;  and they abandoned the Lord…   So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them.  But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse. (Judges 2:11-18 excerpts)

This cycle lasted for approximately 180 years! And although it was a dark time in the history of Israel, there were heroic stories of faith and faithfulness in the lives of the judges.

As we might imagine, judges commanded much awe and respect. Their courage, wisdom, and faith had to be equal to the task of inspiring, leading, commanding, and holding accountable the people of Israel. In the male-dominated culture of the Israelites it would have been unthinkable that a woman would have risen to judge. Yet here is Deborah, introduced in Judges 4 without apology or explanation, Judge of Israel.

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:4-9)

What’s even more striking is her action here in this passage: she summons and commands a great war hero of the Israelites, Barak. She commands him, in the name of the Lord, to do battle with a feared and much superior enemy (Sisera General of King Jabin’s Canaanite army). And, Barak defers to her! Even though she wouldn’t have had any hardened battle experience or real practice in military strategy. And, even though he himself, Barak, will receive none of the glory of the victory.

This is amazing! And, it shows us clearly that God is not the God of the status quo. God really does raise up leaders for challenging times. Culture and society try and lock doors, build walls, and construct glass ceilings…   but when the Lord our God is with us, none of those obstacles can keep us from our calling and mission.

Deborah, the Judge, had the Lord with her for courage and wisdom and faith. Quite literally, she was a woman in a man’s world, yet she commanded great respect. Such was her reputation and respect that even the customary gender expectations dissolved without a word of protest.

The conclusion of Deborah’s story is a wow-finish. Deborah and Barak led the Israelite army to victory!

What kind of wow-finish victory is God doing in our midst today? And through which unexpected people?

 

Pastor Erik

 

 

Challenging the False Gods

Posted by on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 @ 12:28 PM

Do we worship any false gods?

It’s a more complicated question than we give it credit for.

Most of us would say no. Our common-sense understanding of worshipping ‘false’ gods has usually meant the notion of believing in an alternative religion and professing the existence of (and our adherence to) some divine being instead of Yahweh: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Father of Jesus, God of our Christian faith.

The problem of worshiping false gods plagued the ancient Israelites. They were forever chasing after other gods, building shrines to them, participating in rituals that praise them. So pervasive was this worshiping of false gods that the very first commandment given to the Israelites was “Thou shalt have NO OTHER gods Before me.

Why? Why was this such a stumbling block for otherwise faithful people?

As it turns out…   the allure of worshipping other gods was simply the sinful, human desire to secure prosperity, favor, pleasure, and plenty by any means available. Often, the REASON why people chased after other gods in the ancient world is because they promised all sorts of things people desired: good weather for planting, good fortune for self and family, good fertility, and protection from harm. When life was threatening…   and it seemed as though Yahweh wasn’t answering…   people would flee to worship other gods in hopes that, by those religious rituals, they would secure the favor of the other gods.

So, I ask again, do we worship any false gods?

According to the common-sense understanding…   probably not. We probably haven’t gone to the shrine of Baal, or a temple of the Greek gods, or professed to have become a Jedi Knight in service to the divine Force. But, driven by the same simple, sinful, human desire to seek prosperity, favor, pleasure, and plenty by any means available, we probably HAVE worshiped false gods of a different sort: riches, fame, safety, security, pleasure, science, politics, etc. When we have felt Yahweh wasn’t answering, we probably have chased and invested ourselves in the rituals and practices of other gods because they promise all sorts of things we desire success, fame, fortune, love, knowledge, protection…   just like the ancient Israelites.

So, in every generation, some faithful prophet must rise up and remind the people that Yahweh is the one true God and all others are FALSE and incapable of bestowing any power, prosperity, or protection. Elijah was the prophet of his generation to do this. He publicly challenges the false gods of his day for all to see. Here is the extended story from 1 Kings 18:

17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29 As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lordcame, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35 so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (1 Kings 18:17-39)

God will always reveal God’s power and presence to those who faithfully seek, prepare, call upon, and wait. God will always unmask the false gods of this world and reveal them for what they are…   nothing.

Our challenge today is to trust in God…   even when it doesn’t seem like God is listening, acting, or answering our prayers. Our challenge today is to resist the temptation to go chasing after every promise the false gods of this world offer.

Our God is an awesome God…   worthy of our praise and trust. If we remain close to God, God will remain close to us, revealing truth and power and promise unrivaled by any ‘god’ of this world.

Pastor Erik

Heroism Far From Home

Posted by on Monday, July 2, 2018 @ 3:44 PM

First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This famous quote is credited to Martin Niemoller, a German pastor in Nazi Germany who publicly opposed Adolph Hitler and spent seven years in a concentration camp. It speaks to courage and standing up for others. It speaks to standing out and risking oneself on behalf of those who are in imminent danger.

Sadly, we are often all too comfortable and content to remain quiet and ‘on the sidelines’ when others are being mistreated. Of course, we are horrified. Of course, we oppose. Of course, we know its wrong. But, standing up for someone else often means real risk and sacrifice. It means the real possibility of suffering the same fate of those who are in the danger in the first place. When we do the calculation…   self-preservation kicks in and we fail to speak out.

Real courage, real faith, and the follow through to act boldly are the marks of a true hero.

In the Book of Esther, a poor Jewish girl living in exile in Persia grows up to be a strikingly beautiful woman whom, by a string of circumstances, becomes a Persian queen! Meanwhile, the Jews, whom have often suffered terribly under the rule of other nations while in exile, are facing annihilation. A plot has been uncovered! The Jews are in terrible danger.

Should Esther expose the plot?  Should she plead to the king for their protection? Esther has a choice to make. Her wealth, her power, her position, her security…   everything she has would be at risk if she went to the king to plead on behalf of the Jews. She herself would certainly be killed along with them. Of course, she could just do nothing. After all, she, even though a Jew, is a safe and sound member of the royal house.

10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” 12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:10-17)

Esther rose to the challenge and became a hero…   saving the Jews of her day! The risk was real. The consequences deadly. She could have remained silent. But, her courage, faith, and follow through to act boldly revealed her to be a real hero.

Its uncomfortable to talk about, especially for those of us who have been blessed with much safety and security and prosperity. But, if there were more Esthers among us, there would be a lot less suffering, oppression, and crimes against humanity. It is a tragedy, a moral crime, and wrong in the eyes of God to stand ‘on the sidelines’ and remain silent when we are able to speak and act on behalf of those who are in danger and suffering.

God wants to use us to literally SAVE others through our courageous action. God wants us to be heroes. Are we courageous enough? Are we faithful enough? Can we follow through boldly?

 

Pastor Erik

History's Heroes: A Legacy of Faith from the Old Testament

Posted by on Monday, July 2, 2018 @ 9:56 AM

Bernard of Chartes coined the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants”.  It describes the way any current generation achieves greatness, not in its own right, but by building on the great work of previous generations. This is true in philosophy, science, technology, exploration, discovery and…   FAITH! The heroes of the Old Testament stepped out in faith in response to God’s power and promise. The result was great feats of heroism that became foundational examples for faithful living.

We’ve all learned about Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others…   in this five-week series we look at some of the other impressive heroes of the Old Testament.Through July and August as we explore and discover the great stories of:

Esther

Elijah

Deborah

Gideon

Solomon

Join us each Sunday as these faith heroes inspire and challenge us to more faithful living!

 

Pastor Erik

One Spirit For All People

Posted by on Monday, June 25, 2018 @ 8:38 AM

God is always doing something new!

The challenge is whether or not we are going to recognize it

Too many times our inability to see the BIG-ness of God, God’s love, God’s will, God’s plan keeps us from great opportunities to be a transformative power for good and for God in the world. Instead, we sit around saying “God can’t be doing that” or “God would never do that” or “God doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all”

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit goes on ahead of us despite our inability to comprehend and despite our often nay-saying attitudes.

For Thousands of years the Jews were taught, convinced, and convicted that they were God’s chosen people, exclusively. Their Law, their worship, their temple, their culture all favored ‘insiders’…   the Jewish people.

When Christ came, he preached and taught as a Jewish rabbi, but he drew the circle of acceptance really wide. Jesus reflected a God of mercy, love, grace, acceptance and salvation. Naturally, his first followers (all Jews) ASSUMED that this mercy, love, grace, acceptance and salvation was for the Jews exclusively.

But, when God speaks to Peter in a vision and sends him to the household of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, there starts the complete upending of the exclusivist worldview that God is God for the Jews alone. Cornelius is not a Jew, but yet he is faithful and God-fearing and generous in giving to help people. He receives a vision too… that God has heard his prayers and accepted him…   and instructed Cornelius to seek out Peter.

When the two meet…  it’s an awkward moment. Peter is unsure of why he’s there, but he is trusting God without objection. Cornelius, on the other hand, is thrilled because Peter’s appearance has confirmed the work of God in Cornelius’ life.

What Peter says next marks the opening of the floodgates of the Holy Spirit…   one Spirit not for the Jews alone, but one Spirit for ALL people:

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. (Acts 10:34-48)

To this very day we, as Christians, live out this legacy: one Spirit for ALL people.

In these days of such diversity and such divisiveness we would do well to remember this legacy: Jesus reflected a God of mercy, love, grace, acceptance and salvation for all people.

The power of the Holy Spirit is promised to, and poured out upon, faithful people of all backgrounds.

Let’s look around with open eyes and see what new thing God will be doing in our midst here today!

 

Pastor Erik

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