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Thursday, January 28, 2021

My 2021 Garden Plans

I can't wait to get outside this spring and start my garden!  I'm so excited, I'm going to give you a preview of my 2021 gardening plans!  Watch a video about my plans here!

2020 was a super crazy year with so many needing to quarantine or work from home. I was thankful the pandemic hit my area in spring so we could at least go outside and enjoy the pretty weather, the singing birds, and the new life budding all around. Springtime (and also the reality of food shortages at the grocery store) inspired me to grow my own garden.

I've grown gardens in the past with limited success.  I often get busy with other things and neglect them and they suffer as a result.  2020 gifted me the time and determination to do my best in the garden and the results matched.  I enjoyed the effort and the garden yielded more than ever before, despite my late start and limited garden knowledge.

For 2021, I have resolved to plan ahead and make my best effort.  I also want to experiment with companion planting and hay bale gardening. 

Last year, I had an old haybale siting in the yard that spontaneously sprouted a pumpkin vine that gave us three large pumpkins.  I never had to water or fertilize the hay bale pumpkin, even when the rest of my garden needed constant watering.  I would like to see if the same would be true if I intentionally plant in hay bales.  So that's what I will try (in addition to my regular raised beds).

I am also going to plant in a new section of my yard.  In addition to gardening in my regular spot in the backyard, I will try to grow some things in the sunniest spot in my front yard.  I will use hay bales in that location to see if they need less watering, because that location is a long way from the nearest water spigot.

Another idea I want to try is companion planting.  Companion planting groups different plants as teams.  For instance, beans planted alongside watermelon introduce nitrogen into the soil that helps the watermelon.  The watermelon vines sprawl out over the ground to choke out weeds that might cripple the beans.  Low growing watermelons won't bother the beans because the beans will climb up a trellis.  

Also, I will add certain flowers and herbs as companions in the garden because they repel bugs and other pest.  Some companion flowers and herbs I will grow are sunflowers, nasturtium, marigolds, rosemary, dill, oregano, and mint.

Here is a list of vegetables I want to grow this year.

  • Yellow Stuttgarter Onions
  • California Softneck Garlic
  • Serbian Hardneck Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Winter Squash
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Peanuts
  • Yellow Squash and/or Zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
Watch a video tour of my garden and follow along with my progress.

Monday, January 25, 2021

All You Ever Need

I heard a funny joke the other day.  It went something like this.  A smug Princeton professor was flying from to Kansas to visit his parents.  The man seated next to him said hello and extended a friendly calloused hand.  “My name's George.  It’s my first time flying!  What’s your name?”  

“You can call me Doctor Edwards,” was his annoyed reply.  “So you’re a doctor?  Have you ever saved a life?”  

“Not that kind of doctor.  I have a PhD in physics.”  

“Oh!  I didn't know physics needed doctors! Wow!  You must be pretty smart!  I never went to college.  I’m a pig farmer.”  

The professor rolled his eyes and hoped the man wouldn’t keep talking the whole way to Kansas, but the man continued, “Say.  How’s about we play a game.  You ask me a question about physics and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll give you $5.  Then I’ll asks you a question and if you can’t answer, since you're so much smarter, you give me $50. ”  

Well, the pay out was a bit lopsided, but the professor was really smart and figured he could easily win this contest of wits. “Alright,” he said. “As light from a star spreads out and weakens, do gaps form between the photons?”  

“Shucks!  That’s a good one.  I don’t rightly know.  Well, you got me!  Here’s five bucks.”  He handed over the money and the professor thought this was going to be too easy, but then the pig farmer asked his question.  “What’s the name of the bacteria in a pigs gut that helps it digest it’s dinner?”  

Now the professors was a little concerned.  He hesitated a moment and then said, “I don’t know.  Here’s $50.”  

“Thanks!”  The farmer said.  

Then the professor asked, “So what is the name of the bacteria inside a pigs gut that helps it digest it’s dinner?”  

The farmer grinned, “Man you’re good!  I don’t know.  Here’s five more bucks.”  

And that my friends is the difference between wisdom and knowledge!

Wisdom is often gained through experience. The world has its own kind of wisdom, gained through life experience.  Jesus has another kind of wisdom--the wisdom of the ages gained through eternity.  For Jesus is the Word of God. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God." The world had its own wisdom, but God's wisdom is infinitely better. 

The Most Important Thing is to Have Roof Over Your Head…
One bit of worldly wisdom says: "The most important thing is to have a roof over your head and food on your table." That's pretty practical. On the one had, it reminds us about two of our most basic needs--food and shelter. It would be incredibly foolish to spend all you money on fancy clothes and the newest smart phone if you don't have any food to eat or place to live.  I have know a few fools who actually lived that way and you just want to shake them and say, "Come on man! The most important thing is to have a roof over your head and food on your table!" 

This tidbit of worldly wisdom can also serve as an admonition to live a simple life.  In other words, you don’t need a bunch of material things—computers, cars, gadgets, etc.  All you need is a roof over your head and food on your table and you will be fine.  That’s a good reminder, especially for those of us who live in an opulent age that says we always have to have more bigger and better things.

What did Jesus Say?
I’m always more interested in what Jesus said than what the world says.  I am a Christian, after all, and I follow Jesus.  Jesus calls all Christians the same way he called his first disciples in the New Testament.  He comes to us and says, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19).  So, what did Jesus say?

Matthew 4:4
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 8:20
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

We Have Deep Spiritual Need
If humans were merely animals (as some evolutionists in our modern times believe), the world’s wisdom would be enough.  All animals need to survive is their basic biological needs fulfilled.  But humans are more than animals.  We were created by God for a relationship with Him.  By the Word of God, humanity was created.  His words breathed life into our bodies.  And so, even after our basic needs for food and shelter are met, we yearn for something more.  It is precisely this deep yearning inside that often drives people to neglect tending their basic need to “have a roof over our head and food on our table” and foolishly chase after luxuries like fancy cars or clothes or gadgets and nick-nacks.  So many people—perhaps you—are addicted to buying things or even pursuing relationship because they feel a deep emptiness inside and hope that next new thing or that next new relationship will fill a void somewhere inside. 

Humans obviously have needs that go beyond food and shelter.  Yet, even friendships and romantic relationships don’t completely fulfill us.  For even people who have all there material needs met, many good friends, and a happy marriage still feel something is missing.  What is this deep need we have, deep in our soul?

Jesus said, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  You might think that was easy for Jesus to say, but what if he were starving because he got laid of from work and didn’t have money to put food on his table?  Well, actually, Jesus lived in a time and place where most people struggled just to survive and ut food on the table.  Jesus said these words after fasting for 40 days.  Have you ever gone without eating for 40 days?  Jesus did and at the end of it, he affirmed this eternal truth:  People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Humans were made for a personal relationship with God so close we hear His words.  And that relationship comes through Jesus, whom John 1:1 says is the Word of God.

Following Jesus Changes Everything
One would think then, if we have a roof over our head and food on our table and we have a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus, we would be all set.  But then Jesus calls us to follow Him and when we come after Jesus he says in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” What’s that all about?

From the moment Jesus began his public mission to save the world, he’s been calling people to follow him.  As we follow him, we find the Word of God which is the Bread of Life—that thing that finally satisfies the deep longing in our souls.  Yet the three years of His earthly ministry, Jesus didn’t have a home.  He literally didn’t have a roof over his head (unless he stayed under the roof of a friends house).  Jesus was homeless.  Foxes had dens, and birds had nest, be Jesus didn’t.  And if you followed Jesus in the New Testament, it meant you weren’t going to have a place to lay your head either.  

That was 2,000 years ago.  What about now?  Are Christians called to be homeless now?  Of course not; most Christians are not homeless.  There may be some who are called to special ministries that require them to give up their homes to do the Lord’s work.  However, the vast majority of Christians who faithfully follow Jesus don’t have to abandon the “roof over their head.”  

Still, choosing to follow Jesus as your Lord requires a shift in your world-view and your priorities.  Your worldview changes when you realize your “roof” is not really your roof.  It’s the Lord’s roof.  He’s not coming to stay at your house.  You now realize, you are living in His house.  Let that sink in…

Furthermore, when you follow Jesus as your Lord, your priorities change.  Before Jesus was your Lord, the most important thing was to have a “roof over your head and food on your table.”  But now, the most important thing is to follow the Lord.  And if you are faithful to Your Lord, you will follow Him anywhere—even at the expense of the roof over your head.  This change in attitude and priorities goes against the world’s prevailing wisdom.  But as the Word of God says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.”

The world has been through some crazy times over the last year.  The COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how vulnerable we are.  People have lost jobs.  Businesses have closed.  Supply chains were broken. Doctors and experts were baffled by a virus that gives one person the sniffles and the next one ends up on a ventilator in an ICU and then dies. 

It’s scary to think of your own vulnerability as you find out you can't count on the thing you always thought were sure.  I hope the events of this last year help you turn to something greater than what the world offers.  I hope you turn to God through Jesus Christ.  Because in Jesus, you will find God will take care of you no matter what comes your way.  Even if you find yourself without a roof over your head or food on your table, God will take care of you.  Even if you find yourself in an ICU dying (we will all die of something someday), God will take care of you.  Through Jesus, you have the hope of eternal life forever with the Word of God—your truest need.  Jesus is calling, but will you decide to follow him today?

Monday, January 18, 2021

You Can Do Anything!

The world is a crazy place.  If you follow the ways of this world, you will end up in a crazy place.  Jesus gave us a better way.  Jesus’ way most often contradicts the ways of the world.  But I choose Jesus’ way.  I hope you will too.  In this series, I want to point out some of the contrasts between the ways of the world’s way and Jesus’ way.  I hope you will notice them and always choose Jesus’ way.

Our Scripture today is Matthew 19:23-26.

Matthew 19:23-26

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

In Jesus' day, people believed you needed to earn God's blessings.  Most people were very poor and had a hard time doing good deeds; they were too busy just trying to survive from day to day.  People looked up to those with great wealth thinking they were blessed by God--that's why they had so much.  Furthermore, the wealthy had disposable income and could hep the poor or give money to the Temple.  Thus, Jesus words astounded his disciples: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God!"  The disciples thought that if a rich person couldn't earn their way into heaven then there was surely no hope at all for the poor.  

Thankfully, we don't have to earn our way into heaven because Jesus already paid the price in full when he gave his life on the cross.  

A Mother’s Wisdom – “You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To!”
We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up.  We were part of what I would call the lower middle class.  Then, things got even worse after my parents divorced.  We scraped by on what little my dedicated determined mom was able to earn by herself.  But one thing she gave me was far more valuable than anything money could buy.  She told me again and again: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” 

And I believed her.  No matter what challenge I faced, I believed I could overcome if put my mind to it and was willing to work hard.  My mother’s wisdom motivated me to surmount some great hurdles in life.  While most of the people I grew up remained trapped in Macon, a town with little opportunity descending into poverty and crime and corruption, I went away to college.  I didn’t have any money to pay for college, but I worked and found financial aid and paid for it anyway.  I was determined to make a better life than the one I grew up in and I did. 

I always assumed everyone had the benefit of a mother who told them, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”  I was wrong.  Story about the people of Highland UMC in a mill town…

So if you’ve never been encouraged, I want to encourage you today.  You are capable of great things—far more than you may realize.  But I want to do even better than my mother’s wisdom.  I want to give you Jesus' wisdom.

Jesus’ Wisdom

Jesus wisdom is similar to my mother’s wisdom, but even better.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”  Jesus recognized that there are some things that aren’t possible for us.

At 46 years old, I can’t play professional football.  It's just not going to happen no matter how hard I work or put my mind to it.  And even if I really put my mind to it, I can’t walk on water; the laws of nature will not allow it.  And I can't earn God's love or salvation.  It can't be done.  Thankfully, I don' have to because Jesus already made salvation possible and I experience God's full and unconditional love through faith in Christ.

Jesus also has the wisdom to know there are somethings you are capable of doing, but you shouldn’t do them because they aren’t God’s will for you.  When I was a child--like many other boys--I wanted to be a professional football player.  And maybe, if I had really put my mind to it and worked really hard, I could have accomplished that dream. However, eve if I did, I would not be as happy or as fulfilled or healthy as I am today because it was not God's plan for me to be a professional football player.  When I was in college, my goal was to be a textile engineer and I did graduate with a degree in that field and start that career.  However, God showed me that was not His plan for me either and I am much happier and fulfilled serving as a pastor no because that was God's purpose for me.  We are always better off doing what God wants us to do, even if we are capable of doing something else.

The greatest encouragement of all is knowing God has a special purpose for your life. Your purpose is important. It means your life has meaning beyond just your own personal fulfillment.  And your life will have an eternal impact on the world.  Even the small things you do when you do them within God's will are more important and lasting that impressive things you do outside of God's will.  Furthermore, God will help you do whatever He calls you to do.  Even if it seems impossible to fulfill your purpose, it is possible with God’s help. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

Nothing is impossible with God.  Consider, Peter walked on water even thought the laws of nature say that's impossible.  The apostle Paul traveled the world telling people about Jesus even though people everywhere were trying to stop him.  Martin Luther King Jr. helped defeat segregation and win civil rights for African Americans.  What great thing might God want to accomplish through you?  Humanly speaking, it may be impossible, but all things are possible with God's help.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can just sit on your butt and let God do all the work.  Once you know what God’s purpose is for you, you’ve got to have faith in God and be totally committed.  You’ve got to work for it and never give up.  Faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God gives you a shovel.


Know God’s Will for You
Perhaps, the hardest part of life for some is finding out God’s purpose for them.  People share how they struggle with this all the time.  I know it can be hard and I won’t minimize that struggle.  But perhaps I can share some wisdom that might help.  First of all, let’s start with what we know about your purpose.

God clearly told us some concrete things about your purpose.  First of all, we know God’s purpose is to save you for eternal life.  John 3:16 "For God so love the world that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."  That purpose is for you.  We also know God wanted to save you for a relationship with Him.  You are to walk with God every day.  We also know that you’ve got to surrender unconditionally to God through Jesus Christ in order to start living in a relationship with God.  You've got to recognize that your life is not your own to live any way you please.  You were made to love God and love for Him.

Once you start walking with God, there are more things you know you should do.  As you read God's Word in the Bible, you know it’s God’s will for you to love your neighbors, control your tongues, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. You know God doesn’t want you to steal, murder cheat, lie, slander, gossip, or boast.  You know this because God tells us in the Bible.  When you are obedient and do what you know God wants you to do, He is more likely to reveal what you don’t know—like His specific purpose for your life.  So start by doing what you do know and have faith the rest will be revealed.

I love Psalm 119:105 where it says, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."  Now a lamp doesn't shine hundreds of feet ahead of you.  It shines on your path allowing you to see what a few steps ahead so you can walk safely without tripping.  That's a fitting illustration for the life of Christian faith.  God's Word shows us the next few steps and as we walk those steps, God will reveal more.  Eventually, we find we've walked quite a ways down the road God is leading us on, but you have to have faith and you have to take the steps God gives you.


That’s the way it worked for me.  I started out as a kid with my mother’s wisdom—"You can do anything you put your mind to.”  But then a particular failure in my teenage years brought me to my knees and I turned to God.  I started out small—simply walking with God by reading one chapter of the Bible every day before I went to sleep.  Then, I started going to church when my wife when we started dating.  Next, I tried to live the way I knew God wanted me to live.  I started serving in the ways I felt God was asking me to serve—first volunteering to help our youth director with the youth group, then singing in the choir.  From there, God began to reveal more and more about His will for my life.  Eventually, I heard Him calling me into full-time ministry and I left my career as a textile engineer to become a pastor.  My journey isn’t over yet.  I still have to walk the path God puts before me.  As I do, He reveals more of His purpose for me and I try to do it.


Do You Very Best

Whatever God calls you to do, do it with all your heart.  Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”



The more you live for God, the more God reveals His purposes for you and the more people will notice there’s something special about you will open doors that lead you into the future God has for you.

It all starts with a simple choice and commitment to surrender your life to God and follow His will for you.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.




Tuesday, January 12, 2021

How to Pray for 30 Minutes

How to Pray for 30 Minutes
The following is one way you can pray for 30 minutes.  It’s adapted from a formula offered online by Athens First United Methodist Church.  If you struggle to pray for extended periods of time, perhaps this could help.  I encourage you to give it a try.  The formula is broken down into sections that include: Praise, Reading Scripture, Meditation, Confession, Intercession, Listening, Recording, Petitions, Praying for Family, Praying for the Church, Praying for Government Leaders, and Giving Thanks.  If you pray each section for 2 and a half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  You will need a few things to follow this formula:  a Bible, a Notebook, a pen or pencil, and a quiet place where you can be a alone and uninterrupted for 30 minutes.

Start by praising God.  Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  This is a great way to begin 30 minutes of prayer.  Call out to God. Praise Him for creation. Think about His love and wisdom and praise Him.  Think about the wonder of God’s creation and how they testify to the glory of God. And praise God for who He is.  Just revel in the wonder of the God of the universe.

Read Scripture
II Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good.”  Read a Psalm of praise to the Lord. Here are some suggestions:  Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Psalm 121, or Psalm 34 (or pick another one you like).  Pray through a Bible passage using the words as your prayer. Ask God to help you understanding as you read His Word. Let the Scriptures fill your mind and impact your heart. 

Meditate on God’s Word
Psalm 119:11 says, “I treasure your word in my heart.” Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scripture you have just read (or on other passages that come to mind).  Mull them over again and again in your mind.  What is God saying to you through them?

I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Take some time to evaluate specific attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that God brings to mind as you pray. Confess your sins to God and humbly ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. 

I Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Pray to the Lord on behalf of others. Pray for renewal in the hearts of believers. Pray diligently for the needs that come to mind.

Next, quiet your heart and be still before God. Psalm 29:2, 4 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy splendor… the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Ask God to speak to you. Be quiet and listen.

Record your Prayers and Insights
Now, take out your notebook and something with which to write .  Take a few minutes to write down some notes that come to mind.  Write down the insights and direction God gave you during your prayer time. You can even write out a prayer or something you think God wants you to do.  It takes a little bit longer to write words than to say or think them.  Writing encourages you to slow down and dwell with God as He organizes your thoughts.

Petition for Daily Needs
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So spend a few minutes sharing your personal requests with God.  What do you need?  What are you worrying about?  Talk to God about it.

Pray for Family
Psalm 133:1 says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We want our family to live together in unity.  So, pray for your family. Pray for families in general. Ask the Lord to strengthen marriages and uphold family relationships.

Pray for the Church
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Pray for Pleasant Grove United Methodist church and all who seek to know the Lord there, and pray for our church leaders.  Go over your church prayer list.  Pray for the United Methodist Denomination as we prepare to tackle some very divisive issues at our next General Conference.  And pray for the universal Body of Christ, which is made up of believers all over the world of all different denominations.

Pray for Government Leaders
1 Timothy 2:2 says, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Spend a few minutes to pray that God will give our government leaders wisdom and understanding. Pray for local, national, and international concerns. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  We need God to heal our land.  So pray for it.

Give Thanks
Now it’s time to finish your 30 minutes of prayer.  You may now find that 30 minutes is not enough time.  If your schedule allows it, you can keep praying.  God would love that!  But, when it’s time to finish praying, think about the good gifts God has given you and express your gratitude for His care and provision. Praise God for all He has done and for all He will do.  As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”


If you follow this simple formula, praying each section for about two-and-a-half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  It’s not that hard.  Perhaps the hardest part is making the time and committing to do it. 

February 17, 2021 is Ash Wednesday and begins the 40-day season of Lent—a season for Christians to devote themselves to prayer in preparation for the Easter celebration coming up in April.  Perhaps you can use this formula to pray for 30 minutes each day throughout the 40-day season of Lent.  You might find you like it so much, you want to make it a regular part of your day even after Lent is over.  I challenge you to give it a try.  Send me and email and tell me what time of day you want to pray and I will include you on our prayer board. 

Prayer is the lifeblood of a person’s relationship with God.  You can know about God (just like you can know about a famous athlete or celebrity); but prayer is spending time with God.  It is essential for every Christian to be devoted to prayer.  Let’s begin today.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Put Away Your Sword

I had not planned to speak on this subject today.  I planned to begin a sermon series called “The Way of Christ”.  But because of the events of this week, I felt compelled to change today’s message.  Those reading this include Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between.  I’m not taking sides.  I love you all and what I have to say is for everyone. 

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus' arrest.  Jesus had just shared the Last Supper with his disciples and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the authorities and the led a crowd of his enemies to the garden to arrest him.  

Matthew 26:52-56

51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Peter Cutting Off an Ear

This story about one of Jesus' disciples cutting off a man’s ear is so important that all four Gospel include it—Matthew Mark, Luke and John.  The Gospel of John says the mob was a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke simply said it was a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs.  The Gospel of John says it was Peter who cut off the man’s ear.  The other Gospel’s don’t tell us who did it.  The Gospel of Luke says Jesus healed the man’s ear.

The incident was very chaotic and happened so fast.  There wasn’t anyone standing by with a smart phone recording it all.  I’m sure it was hard for all the disciples to remember all the details perfectly.  It's no wonder their accounts vary a bit.  However, there is one thing they all reported.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all remember that Jesus told them not to fight.  In John 22:51, Jesus said, “No more of this!” And in Matthew 26:51, he said, “Put away your sword!  Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Dying by the Sword

Jesus is the most influential figure who ever lived.  He changed the world so drastically, we divide history by whether it happened before or after Jesus lived.  There have been many people who sought to change the world with the sword (or guns or missiles or bombs), but none has even come close to the influence Jesus had on the world.  And he did it all without a sword.  In fact, Jesus was able to have so much influence because he didn’t use a sword.


And I believe Jesus message to us today is the same he said to his disciples on that that dark night of his arrest.  “Put away your sword!”


We’ve had our swords out for a long time in this country.  And it’s gotten exponentially worse over the last decade.  I realize none of you are literally walking around with a sword.  But figuratively, we carry a sword.  The sword of which I speak is not a weapon with a long metal blade.  The sword we carry is an attitude that we have to fight each other to make life the way we want it to be.


Jesus said, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”  What we have been seeing more and more in our country and communities—what we saw vividly splashed across our television sets on January 6th as rioters stormed the Capital building in Washington DC—is what it looks like to die by the sword.  It's not necessarily a physical death--though 5 people died.  It's a spiritual death.  It's a moral death. It can even be the death of ideas or the right to influence public opinion.


What led us to this place—a place where thousands of people would gather at the capital and violently and foolishly rush past barricades and overwhelm law enforcement and illegally occupy the Capital for several hours?  What makes people act like this? 


We are so divided.  It’s not just that we don’t agree on everything.  (America is too big and too diverse for us to agree on everything; that’s never gonna happen.  We've never in our history agreed on everything.)  The problem is we are so angry we want to swing a sword at people with whom we disagree.  And maybe, we’ve been cutting off each other’s ears so long now that we don’t have any ears left to listen.  We don't use swords, but we cut off ears with words and insults and accusations and mistrust and disrespect.


There are times when it is necessary to draw a sword (or a knife or a gun) to defend yourself, but using a sword is not the way to make the world a better place.  It’s not the way to make America great.  And right now, we need to hear Christ’s words when he says, “Put away your sword!”  This is not the way.  Violence is not the way.  Fighting is not the way to make America great or the world the way God wants it to be.


The Way of Christ
Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  The people of Israel thought the Messiah would come to save them from their enemies—that he would fight for them with a sword and liberate them from the Romans.  Jesus knew that would never work. 


Jesus could have easily beaten the Roman army.  He said in Matthew 26:53, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” Certainly, God’s angels could defeat the Romans.  However, Jesus knew a violent uprising would never work because it’s not how you change people hearts.  Only love can change people’s hearts.  

Love is how Jesus changed the world.  And love is how Jesus wants his followers to make the world a better place.  Love is how Jesus wants you to make America a better place.


And this is a message for everyone—Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between.  It’s time to stop pointing fingers at everyone else and saying how evil they are.  It’s time to stop calling people names because of what party or philosophy they follow.  It’s time to start treating everyone with respect.  It’s time to start listening and learning from each other.  (You don’t have to agree with someone to respect them, to listen to them, and learn from them.)


It’s time to start living by love or else we will die by the sword.

What does that mean for you? The details may vary from person to person. Some suggestions might be to stop calling people names becasue of their political party or ideology.  Maybe you need to change your attitude and understand that people with whom you agree probably believe what they do for good reasons. They are not the enemy.  Quite often they share the same values as you, but just prioritize them differently.  

Most importantly, if you are a Christian who has committed your life to follow Jesus as your Lord, recognize your role and work as hard as you can to do things the way Jesus would do it.  Perhaps the way of Christ is best summarized in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi.

The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord make me an instrument of Your peace

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness joy.

O Divine master grant that I may

Not so much seek to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love

For it is in giving that we receive

And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned

And it is in dying that we are born

To eternal life.



Will you live this prayer?  Peter boasted he would die for Jesus.  I'm sure the other Disciples thought the same.  But we see in our scripture, they all fled.  They were probably willing to die for Jesus on a battlefield, but not on a cross.  It’s easy to pledge you will die for Jesus.  But will you live for him—even if it means dying on a cross instead of dying in glory on the battlefield?  Jesus' way is the way of the cross.