The Rest of the Story

April 6, 2017 – Thursday
baby jesus
Read:  Galatians 4:4, TLB and Matthew 20:28, TLB
Focus:  Gal. 4:4, TLB and Matt. 20:28, TLB

But when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, 

“Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”

We all love the Christmas story, don’t we? A sweet little baby is born to a young couple under less than ideal circumstances. Neighboring shepherds spread the news of angels visiting and proclaiming peace because of His birth. The local ruler is jealous and tries to have Him killed and so the family flees to a safer place. Some really nice rich guys are led by a star to bring the baby strange, but meaningful, gifts, and the whole event is news for a while but then dies down for years. We see little of the baby boy for many years and the story is just that – a good story and maybe a new holiday to celebrate.

But then, one day a grown man appears on the scene and begins doing miracles. He and his friends travel about doing good, but we are getting all kinds of flak from local leaders and spiritual guys. He claims to be the Son of God, but lots of these people know he is just that little baby all grown up – they don’t believe his claim. Ah, but some believe and begin to follow Him! This angers and threatens the big wigs so things are set in motion to take him to trial and kill Him on a cross. Trouble is, He doesn’t stay dead! He rises again and stirs things up for a while before going back to heaven and leading a movement from there that will last forever!

In the book written about all this, the writer of Galatians talks about the baby’s birth in this way:  “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4, KJV). When the time was right, Christ was born. The Christmas story had its beginnings many years before it was told.

But then, in that same Book, Matthew relates that: “The son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). In other words, He was BORN TO DIE!  Jesus, Himself, said that He “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, KJV). We all have sinned and the penalty for sin is death. But God chose to send His Son, Jesus, to pay that penalty for us, once and for all. The truth of Christmas is that Jesus came for Easter. He came to die in our place so that forgiveness from sin and assurance of Heaven could be offered to all who believe. Have you accepted this gift of salvation? If not, let Easter 2017 be the day you take full possession of God’s Christmas present to you. Then you will know The REST of the (Christmas) Story: John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (KJV).

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The Gift of God

April 5, 2017 – Wednesday
gift
Read:  Romans 6:15 – 23, NIV
Focus:  v. 23, NIV

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In a somewhat free-ranging discussion at one of our “coffee” times recently, someone was mentioning that they were working three jobs and going to school. That reminded me of my last year of college when I worked three part-time jobs while going to school full-time. Between the campus Post Office, Mersereau Hall, Chili Plastics and keeping up with my classes, there was not much time left for myself or any activities I might have wanted to get involved in. However, I was able to graduate without taking an additional semester of classes and was thus able to get into the work force earlier to pay off some of those school bills. Wages were not very high in those days so it was often a real struggle.

Our focus verse speaks of wages and a gift. Gifts are nice, aren’t they? I remember occasionally receiving a gift in the mail while at college from a family member or friend of the family. I was always very grateful and appreciative as that enabled me to occasionally stop at a café for a cup of coffee or a hamburger. Anything was a welcome change from cafeteria food! But, talk about opposites, what a difference between the wages. It would seem like an easy choice, right? Apparently we have a problem with that gift, though, because it seems so hard to believe it really is a gift! Think about it. Why is it such a problem? Sin, going the way of the world, leads to death and there is a free gift offered that leads to eternal life! On the surface, at least, it seems a no-brainer. However, we humans seem to always want to look a gift horse in the mouth and be mightily suspicious. All Jesus really seems to be saying here is, “You can continue to work for death or you can receive a free gift of eternal life instead.” Why make it so hard? Either we work and slave just to receive death or we receive God’s gift of eternal life “in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The little word “BUT” in there is simply telling us we have a really valid choice here. Why not accept it at face value?

We work for someone. We slave for someone. Those are the terms Paul is presenting here. We are basically “owned” (slaves) by what or who we work for. The end result is what we have to be aware of. Am I working just to die? Or, am I working to live eternally? Paul makes the issue very clear, doesn’t he? So, whose slave are you? Who is your boss? Is it this world or God? Are you working for death or life?

He Bore Our Sins

April 4, 2017 – Tuesday
sins
Read: 1 Peter 2:23-25
Focus: vs. 24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

I recently ran across the story of Rev. James Caldwell who served in the Army as a chaplain from 1776 to 1781. He was active during the Revolutionary War. He’s a fascinating character who, when his company ran out of musket wadding at the battle of Springfield, in New Jersey, ran to a nearby Presbyterian church and brought back a number of hymnals. These hymnals were known as “Isaac Watts Hymnals,” named after the hymn writing minister. Caldwell is quoted as shouting, “Now put Watts into them, boys!” He earned the nickname “The Rebel Priest” and “The High Priest of the Rebellion” from the British. They even offered a reward for his capture and burned his church to the ground. After that, Caldwell began preaching with his pistols lying on either side of his Bible. The British shot and killed his wife and he died about a year later in service to his country.

I struggle with Christ’s example some times more than others. I’m a fighter and I hate injustice. I speak up when I see it and you can be sure I’ll speak even louder when it’s happening to me. Yet Christ’s example was one of non-violence, especially when his own life was on the line. Some Christian leaders have taken this to mean Christians should always remain passive, even when their own lives are in danger. Still other leaders have seen the call in the Word to fight against injustice and join the battle when necessary. Throughout history, you will find both examples.

In our passage, Peter is referring specifically to the final hours of Christ’s life when he went willingly to the cross. He could have stopped it and he certainly could have stood against the injustice of the false charges being brought against him. We are reminded that Christ had a higher call and his death on the cross accomplished so much for us. So he let it happen. They hurled insults and he didn’t retaliate. He suffered but didn’t fight back. “He himself bore our sins” on the cross and “by his wounds you have been healed.” Today I am reminded that Jesus bore my sins on the cross. He paid the penalty for me. He took the punishment I deserved and healed me. The death of Jesus takes away my sin.

It’s interesting that Peter is writing these words to us. He’s the one who pulled out his sword when the soldiers showed up in the garden to arrest Jesus. He’s the one who swung that sword and cut off the ear of the soldier before Jesus told him to stop. Instead, Jesus heals the man’s ear and allows them to arrest him without any further fight. What happens next is a travesty of justice; but it is through that travesty that Jesus sacrifices himself for me. He bore our sins on the cross.

Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome in this Place (My Heart)

April 3, 2017 – Monday

Read:  John 14:26 – 29, TLB
Focus:  v. 27, TLB

 “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Chapter 14 of John is a spectacular combination of comfort, sadness, doubt, confusion, instruction, encouragement – it is all there in 31 verses, and it is a good chapter to memorize, if you are so inclined. Jesus is using His last few minutes alone with His disciples to prepare them for what the next hours would bring. He wants them to know that He is leaving to prepare a final resting place for them. They cannot go there with Him, yet, but He will come back again one day to take them to be with Him. He lets them know that He is sending them a comforter to be with them in His place. The comforter will help them to do good in Jesus’ name, help them to know and understand truth and remind them of what Jesus had taught them. Best of all, Jesus tells them that He is giving them peace of mind and heart to sustain them in all that they will face. They will not always understand what is going on but if they remember that He gives them peace they will make it through!

Peace is something everyone is looking for. We just all seem to look in different directions to find it! The peace the world offers can only be fragile and never lasting. The peace that Jesus gives is from His Father God, the source of real truth and love! The Holy Spirit in us will make all these things known to us as we seek Him. We have not been left alone, or as orphans in a storm (verse 18) – and Jesus will come again, in the Father’s good time. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid – He is still with us, but in a more complete way!

**The title is based on the song “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome in this Place.

Lifted Up

April 2, 2017 – Sunday
Lifted Up - Logo
Read: John 3:1-15
Focus: vss. 14-15

1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

In Numbers 21:4-9 we have a brief story of how God used a bronze snake on a pole to save the people of Israel as the people headed towards the Promised Land. As you read through Numbers you will be amazed at how often the people grumbled about their situation and doubted the purposes of God for bringing them out of Egypt. In Numbers 14:11, after the people listen to the bad reports of 10 of the twelve spies sent into Canaan, God says to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” Moses intercedes for the people and God holds off on delivering his wrath to the grumblers. These incidents continue until this little story in Numbers 21 where the people are grumbling, once again, as they travel from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea. Verses 4-5 say, “But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!””

Have you ever met someone who seems to never have a positive word to say? Complain, complain, complain! It drains you of energy just to see them coming towards you. This was what Moses dealt with all the time and we are reminded, in the story of the Bronze Snake, that this kind of complaining shows unbelief and contempt for God as it ignores all He has done for them. In Numbers 21 God has had enough and he sends venomous snakes among the Israelites and they start to die off. They quickly understand that this is judgment for their words toward God. “Take the snakes away!” they said. So God provides a way for them to live through the snakes. He has Moses make a snake out of bronze and put it up on a pole. Whenever the people are bitten by a venomous snake, they had to look upon the snake on the pole and they would survive.

Looking upon the snake required faith. That simple act recognized that the affliction, caused by their sin, could be healed by trusting in God’s provision. Turn the pages of your Bible all the way into the New Testament to the third chapter in the book of John and Jesus references the story in Numbers 21. Jesus is talking with Nicodemus when, in verse 3, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, doesn’t get it so Jesus has to explain it to him. So he goes into an explanation of how we must be born of water and the Spirit. When Nicodemus still doesn’t get it, Jesus brings out our story from Numbers 21. Except now it’s the “Son of Man” that must be lifted up instead of the snake.

The “Son of Man” is a reference to Jesus and the “lifting up” refers to his eventual death on the Cross. He further explains it by saying that those who look upon the Cross and believe will have “eternal life in him.” This launches John 3:16, perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

During this season of Lent you have the opportunity to look upon the Cross and see what Jesus has done for you. Will you believe and be saved? Will you recognize that God has provided for your greatest affliction – the affliction of sin and the death (both spiritual and physical) that results from it? The Son of Man has been lifted up and your salvation awaits. Look upon the Cross and believe.

The Bread of Life

April 1, 2017 – Saturday 
bread
Read:  John 6:35 – 40, NIV
Focus:  v. 35, NIV

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Just out of curiosity, I “googled”- “The significance of bread in different cultures.” What I discovered was that bread in some form is found in almost every region and culture in the world. In most it is also referred to, much as we Americans are wont, as “The staff of life.” This means that it contains most nutrients essential to life. Bread is made from many different grains and in many different styles including baking, frying, boiling, and many others. The varieties are legion with many countries consuming much more bread than we Americans do.

When Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life,” He was making a huge statement to His followers. Bread is a staple of life in most parts of the world so therefore it is very significant for it to be mentioned by someone like Jesus. He was equating Himself as something that was absolutely essential for the sustaining of life. However, He did not only say He was the “bread of life” but also that he was the other part of the necessity of life – water. Good water supplies are essential for any civilization to survive. Our two most basic needs are food for hunger and water to drink. Bread and water supply this. He is referring to Himself as being necessary to sustain life. Since he also claimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” then He has made Himself to be most essential for life. However, He is talking about much more than physical life. He is referring to a life that is eternal in nature. I seem to be working rapidly toward the fourscore figure of 80 years (77 before Easter arrives), and I know that He cannot be referring to physical life. I don’t believe I would like to continue forever getting older and older with all the pitfalls and other problems that come with age. Just imagine it multiplied many times over! I get tired just thinking about it. “Is it bedtime yet, dear?” “No, it is only 7:45 PM, keep going.”

This event occurred shortly after the miracle of feeding the five thousand with just 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 small fish. The crowd came looking for Him and Jesus, correctly it appears, accused them of searching Him out because He fed them. He went on to tell them that He was the bread they needed. This is something they did not like so they grumbled among themselves so much so that Jesus flatly told them to stop grumbling. They could not get over that he was Mary’s little boy and the carpenter’s son all grown up. More than that, they didn’t like His assertion that He came down from heaven.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is absolutely necessary for eternal life. He provides all that is necessary to live forever. Have you made his acquaintance? Even more, have you received Him as that which is necessary for eternal life? Is He your Bread of Life?

The Children of God

March 31, 2017 – Friday
children
Read:  John 1:9 – 13, NIV
Focus:  v. 13, NIV

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

All, or at least most, of our devotionals for this season of Lent have had the underlying theme of “What is accomplished through the Cross?” Today’s selection is from very early in John’s Gospel and does not directly mention the cross. However, it does indirectly refer to it. The eleventh verse does so in the words, “but his own did not receive him.” Those words also encompass all the events that took place in Jesus’ life and ministry and especially during the past week of His life. Moving on, I recognize that our focus verse is just one of the highlights of this paragraph and that this paragraph lies in the midst of a whole bunch of highlights about who and what Jesus is. In the first 18 verses of his Gospel, John introduces who Jesus really is. This is referred to as The Prologue of John’s Gospel.

Verses 9 through 13 are a paragraph that contains a complete thought as to why Jesus came, or rather, was sent by God. “The true light,” or Source of knowledge and understanding came into the world to share that knowledge and understanding with the world. He came to really “be light” – to illuminate the spiritual darkness around us. The problem is that most of the world, even among those who should have responded, the Jews, did not accept Him. But some did, and they received something very special. It is something anyone who accepts The True Light, Jesus, can also share in. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—“. I think you can agree that this was something special. What does it mean to become children of God? In the first place it is a wonderful spiritual transformation that makes you a part of God’s eternal family. Then it also includes the growing that takes place for a child. All children are expected to grow, physically, emotionally, in knowledge and wisdom, relationally and many other ways. A spiritual child is no different except that the growth is in spiritual areas and takes precedence over the physical, earthly existence. He gives us the right to become, both initially through the new birth and throughout our existence as a born again child of God. I love that word “become” As it indicates to me that even though I began as a believer at a certain point in my life I continue to become all that God wants me to be throughout my life. In that sense, we are all “becomers” if you will. Another way of putting it is as someone else said, “God isn’t finished with me yet!”

“Children of God” is a wonderful title to be attached to your name. I remember reading one of Grace Livingston Hills books many years ago where one of her characters scratches some words in the wood on the door of his airplane as he feels his life ebbing away. He remembers someone talking to him about becoming a believer and he indicated his acceptance by inscribing the words, “Gareth, Child of God.”  How about it? I like the sound of “Rowland, Child of God.” How about your name with those words inscribed after it.

An Outlandish Story

March 29, 2017 – Wednesday
nuts
Read: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Focus: vs. 18

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Have you ever had an experience that was so outlandish that you couldn’t figure out how you were going to tell the story to your friends and family? I like to go fishing when I get a chance. I love the Spring season the best when the fish seem to be waking up from a long winter’s nap and they are ravenous. Everyone knows that fishermen love to tell tall tales of the fish they have hooked and lost. Those are the best ones because nobody can refute your tale, no matter how outlandish it seems. My favorite stories involve a three-foot walleye and a largemouth bass that tried to hit me with my own lure. Was that walleye really three feet long? I will admit that most people consider it a foolish story when I tell it.

When writing sermons I have a habit of trying to listen to my words through the ears of another. It helps to think of faces the message will be delivered to and consider the situations I know they are facing.  On top of that, I will hear my words through the ears of someone I know who doesn’t believe so I can consider how to speak words of life to them. This gets interesting because, quite often, the gospel of Jesus sounds like foolishness through that second set of ears. Following the train of thought helps me to see how to broaden my words to reach the lost as well as the found.

Our passage in 1 Corinthians turns Paul into a fisherman realizing that his outlandish tale about Jesus sounds like foolishness to those who don’t believe. Maybe my walleye wasn’t really three-feet long but the story of Jesus, crazy as it sounds, is absolutely true. It’s foolishness to those who are perishing but it’s the very power of God to those being saved!

I will admit that sometimes it sounds like I’m telling a crazy story to my friends when I talk about what Jesus has done for me. I hear the words I’m saying and I’m sure I sound completely nuts to them. I’m positive they’re going to quietly say “good for you” as they slip the straight jacket onto me. That doesn’t stop me from telling my story, though. The reality is that what the world thinks is wisdom is often nothing but foolishness; and what the world thinks is foolishness is actually the greatest wisdom of all. What does it take to turn that foolishness into wisdom for the one who hears the story? It takes God’s whisper in their ear and the Holy Spirit’s touch upon their heart. That’s what turned my world upside down. When that day came, I realized the foolish story was filled with power from God.

If you want to hear some foolish words, come talk to me? Have I got a story to tell you!

Christ, the Sin Offering

March 28, 2017 – Tuesday 
offering
Read:  Romans 8:1 – 4, NIV
Focus:  v. 3, NIV

“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh,. . . .”

The paragraph we are looking at introduces the matter of the difference between living by the Law and living by Christ’s Spirit. It wouldn’t hurt to read further than the portion shared in our heading above even all the way down to verse 17. In fact, a bit later on I will use a verse from that larger portion. Basically, what Paul wrote was that the Law couldn’t keep us holy because it (the Law) was weakened by our own deficiencies. But God was able to do something about it through Christ who became the sin-offering for us.

God, who gave the Law, knew that the Law could not eventually save us so He completed His plan through His own Son, Jesus Christ. Remember that the “sin offering” had to be repeated year after year for the sins of the whole nation of Israel. Individuals also gave sin offerings on a more frequent and personal basis by making offerings. Ezekiel in his 18th chapter twice tells us “The soul that sinneth, it shall die (KJV).” See verses 4 and 20 of that chapter. It would be impossible for a man to give enough sin offerings to cover his own sins. The sin offering was a substitute for his own life being forfeit because of his sin. These sin offerings were looking forward to the perfect sin offering which was God’s own Son. This Jesus did on the Cross at Calvary as a forever sin offering that covers all sin past, present and future. When we receive Christ as God’s Son and sacrifice for our sins He takes away all condemnation. As adopted children of God through Jesus our sin is covered over by the Robe of Righteousness which Jesus gives to us. Are we perfect and holy? Not in ourselves but, yes, we are in Christ Jesus.

Now I want to share a verse from further in this section written by Paul. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father”  (Rom. 8:15, NIV). Do you see how important Christ as our sin offering is? No longer are we slaves to sin but have actually been adopted as sons (and daughters) of God.

A Broken Hallelujah

March 27, 2017 – Monday
eagle
Read:  Isaiah 40:28 – 31, TLB
Focus: v. 31, TLB

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Have you been through what I call a “Broken Hallelujah” experience, a time when everything piles up and then comes crashing down around you all at the same time? When the suffering and pain seem worse than ever and you are not sure if life will ever be good again? I had several of those times between 1984 and 2012. Up until then our life had been manageable and mostly wonderful. But it seemed that once the dominoes began to fall there was no stopping them. One particularly difficult time was in 2006 when our life changed forever, again, with my husband’s heart attack. He loves to testify about the peace that God gave to him and the lack of pain.. On the flip side, though, was me falling apart (Even as God held me in His hands and met my every need!). I was holding a lot inside and trying not to cry constantly – in January of 2007 we were riding in a car, possibly to one of the never-ending doctor’s appointments, when I heard a song on the radio that really touched me by its melody and by the anguish I felt in the song. I could not hear well enough to understand the words but I did hear the chorus which began with “Hallelujah” and ended with, “a Broken Hallelujah.” Immediately the thought came to me from God, “I know your hallelujah is broken, but we can fix that – just come to Me.” The tears began as I acknowledged that, “Yes, my hallelujah was broken” and I had been suffering in silence, alone. I felt the hope begin to spring up as I remembered that God knew it all, all along He knew, and waited for me to bring it to Him! I felt a new calm about the future and a new hope from Him! He gave strength and renewal to my exhausted, weary, and faint heart.

The crucifixion experience could have been a broken hallelujah time for Christ, and it sure was for his followers – but because He gained strength to go through it from His Father, and was able to persevere – because of that, we can also triumph and be renewed as we wait upon the Lord! Do you have a broken hallelujah that needs to be taken to the Lord?

(**A Note from Pastor Dan** – “Hallelujah” – Written by Leonard Cohen, Linked version Performed by Rufus Wainright – Cohen, who died in Nov. of 2016, was Jewish. While the song uses biblical imagery, it is not a “Christian” or “Religious” song. The lyrics do explore a great sense of brokenness and a search for meaning in life’s most difficult times – especially those brought on by broken relationships. Consider alternate versions from Jeff Buckley, Pentatonix and Cloverton (Hallelujah Christmas).

**It’s hard to reconcile the existence of pain and suffering with the All-Loving God of Christian faith. Precisely what I love about the devotional above is that it explores how God helps us to deal with and rise above our pain and suffering. It’s honest and simple – leaving the theological complications to others. It deals with things on an emotional level, which is where we are at during those times of suffering. There are theological answers to this conundrum (how can a good and loving God allow pain and suffering?) and I invite you to look deeper into the subject after the emotional trauma has passed. Consider this Catholic article on C.S. Lewis and his book The Problem of Pain. The reality is that, when we are going through a difficult time, theological answers don’t offer much help. Emotions, at their strongest, usually don’t care about logic or reason. As a pastor I find the best comfort I can provide in those times is simply my presence. We go through our broken hallelujahs best when we do it together. An embrace and a shared tear go much further than theology, sometimes.)