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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Pray without ceasing…

Luke 11:1-13

Yesterday, Bo spent some time on prayer and I thought I would continue today.  Prayer is not only at the heart of the Christian life, it is also at the heart of a lot of Christian frustration, misunderstanding, and even pain.

I often see a call to “prayer warriors”…most often when there is crisis in the caller’s life.  A call to prayer is important…but only in times of crisis?  Some natural questions arise…How do we pray? How does God answer prayer?

While I admit that Luke packs a great deal into today’s passage…the Lord’s prayer, a parable on prayer, and then several sayings about prayer…it, nevertheless, is a challenge for us.  Prayer, in this passage, is not primarily about getting things from God but rather about the relationship we have with God. A relationship that allows us to pray maybe our best 2 prayers…”help me, help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you, thank you”.

Ultimately…I think Jesus invites us to be honest in our prayer life…an invitation that comes from our relationship with him. An invitation that says “‘I am with you always’, so why only come to me only in times of crisis or even simply need.”  We are invited to a deeper, more honest, and more trusting relationship with the God who desires to be known chiefly as loving parent, provider of all that is good and protector of all in need. While this may not give us everything we want, it does provide what we most need…”our daily bread”.

In times of crisis AND in our everyday journey in this life, know that Jesus invites you to him…to trust in him.  If you are one who needs a “model” for prayer, then I suggest the wise words of Paul, who wrote…”Pray without ceasing.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

 

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What will it take?

Acts 26:28-29

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 29Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

As I was reading the passage from Acts, I was smiling. Smiling the stubbornness displayed by Agrippa and also at the boldness that Paul displays in his answer. In a way this is a conversation that can speak about who we are as Christians. From time to time I had different interactions with different people that follow the very pattern: I will listen to what you have to say, I will respect what you say but you will never convince me to change my ways. And you know what? I am thankful for those conversation, because if nothing else those become a starting point for prayer. I pray for them that God will continue to speak in to their lives and for me to have another chance to be that Christ presence in their lives.

So what will it take? It takes perseverance, it takes commitment and it takes faith to be praying for people. And that is what we can do, be faithful and be praying for people.

I pray today for you as you read this that you will be encouraged to stand before God and pray that you would be bold just like Paul to speak the promises of God to the people around you but also to be faithful in praying for them that God will work in their lives.

Be blessed,

 

A Harvest of Righteousness

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Philippians 1:1-11

I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach to my blogging for the time being. We have been working through various lectionary series for quite some time, which has not been my strong suit. So, instead, I am going to try to focus on one entire book for a while to see how this goes. For whatever reason, I have decided on Philippians.

As all letters typically begin, Paul begins his letter to the church at Philippi with a greeting. Paul is a servant of Christ. Another word for servant in this case may be slave. He was a slave to Christ. He is completely submissive to Christ. He is in complete obedience of Christ.

Who exactly is he greeting? Saints, bishops, and deacons. Typically, when I think of saints, I think of dead people who did great things while they were alive. Saints Peter, Paul, and Mary, for example (not the band). So I looked it up to see what Paul meant here. What I found is that “‘saint’ is derived from a Greek verb (hagiazo [aJgiavzw]) whose basic meaning is ‘to set apart,’ ‘sanctify,’ or ‘make holy’” (Biblestudytools.com). According to Biblegateway, bishops and deacons are overseers or leaders. So, Paul is writing this letter to people who have been set apart for and by God as leaders and overseers of The Church.

Paul is thankful for the service of the aforementioned people and what they have done to propagate the church in this region of what was once Macedonia. In Paul’s day, this region would have fallen within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The Romans, of course, were pagans, and there was great persecution of Christians throughout the empire. Paul even spent time behind bars in Philippi for exorcising a demon and preaching about Jesus as Lord. Yet, despite that, an early Christian church existed in Philippi, and he is giving praise to those who are faithful followers of Christ. And Paul prays that the saints, bishops, and deacons of Philippi continue to grow in their faith so they are fully prepared for when Christ makes his return.

One final thought about the last verses; Paul’s prayer at the end of the passage. Tonight at the midweek family night at church, in the men’s Bible study group, one thought that was discussed is that we (all) are a work in progress. Paul is making that exact point here. His prayer is for continual growth in the faith. The receivers of this letter are not perfect. Most likely, they are far from it. Just like me. Just like you, most likely. We are human, and have faults, and have room for constant improvement and growth. May we all continue to grow, together. To learn, together. So that in the day of Christ, we will have produced a harvest of righteousness.

Lows & Highs

Psalm 77

Review:  Asaph seems to be in a down cycle (vv. 1-2)…His remembrance of God isn’t helping (v. 3)…He recalls how he has gotten to this point (vv. 4-6)…There is outright doubt about God’s actions or inactions (vv. 7-9)…The turning poem is the middle stanza (v. 10) where one more lament is penned but also how he, with God’s help, has gotten him to this point…This remembrance prompts a recollection of history (vv. 11-15)…The history recollected, Noah (vv. 16-18) and the nation Israel’s (v. 19), involve water – some would say a baptism…In each case, God led them through their difficulties(v. 20).

Analysis:  This poem is a 50/50 proposition.  Half is regret, the other half praise.  This coincides with where I’m at at the present hour…There’s little doubt that the psalmists agony and suffering prompt questions, doubts, and and outright fear (vv. 7-9)…The word “meditate” (vv. 3, 6, 12) implies Asaph invested significant “quiet time” wondering and thinking about his plight.  This is something I do when suffering insomnia, how about you?…Stedfast love (Ex. 34:6) is an essential characteristic of God…With the knowledge that God has helped him in the past, in our own past, in my past; and has done so without leaving any obvious “footprints” (v. 19), the mood shifts…If God’s actions were obvious to all what would be the value of faith (Heb. 11:1-3)?…By examples like this, we, I, have reason to look optimistically at our current circumstances and beyond.

Listening…

Today’s Devotional Passage:  1 Kings 19:9-18

Remember the famous Verizon commercial…”can you hear me now?”  Growing up, I remember a common phrase often uttered from my mom’s lips, “are you listening to me?”  Maybe many of you know what I’m talking about.  Truth be told, I probably rolled my eyes a lot when I heard those words and I was, most likely, not listening.

Now I’m sure we can all talk about the merits of listening well…there are many crucial conversations in our lives.  How well do we listen to the God who created us?

Let’s look at Elijah.  What precedes this passage has Jezebel saying she intends to kill Elijah and as you might guess, Elijah is frightened so he sets out on a journey to save his life.  He feels worthless and prays for God to take his life.  He heads off to Horeb…the mountain of God and this is where “the word of the Lord” comes to Elijah…reminding us of Moses.  Wind, earthquake, fire come and go.  Then…a gentle whisper and “Elijah heard it”.

The voice of God came to Elijah and still Elijah fails to be moved or transformed.  Not quite the response you might expect when encountering the God of the universe.  Or…is it?

Many await a word form God, but, are we listening?  We are often like Elijah…we have  a tendency to want to flee – to escape the chaos of our lives.  There…in our own caves, we desperately want a word from God.  Often alone, exhausted or under attack, we search for signs of God’s presence and direction.

Yet, as God listens to Elijah vent, we learn that Elijah has lost perspective and needs direction around the distractions deafening him.  The earthquake, wind and fire are distractions.  God is not in any of these.  Then comes the gentle whisper providing instruction about the future and I’ll bet there was some comfort for Elijah.  He was on the right path.  Life had overwhelmed him and he had temporarily lost his way.

We are no different.  Every day there is a battle for our hearts between TRUST and FEAR.  The distractions often lead to fear.  Like Elijah, God does not give up on us.  Listening for God’s gentle whisper requires us to rely on ourselves less.  We need to be emptied of the distractions in order to be filled.  We not only need God to stir our spirit, we need to be reminded that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

We need to be reminded that God’s hand is at work in and among us and emptying ourselves means fearlessly going to Jesus in prayer believing that he wants us to lay our burdens at his feet and being filled with His peace.  We are all HIS works in progress…Jesus the One who time and again tells us “do not be afraid” and “I am with you”.

A faith rollercoaster

“No one can have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”
― Cyprian, The Complete Works of Saint Cyprian of Carthage

This past Sunday I was talking with the kids about that empty place that we have in us, a place that cannot be filled by anything else than the divine. It is that union with Christ that makes us complete, a new creation that has meaning and new goals living for the kingdom of heaven.

Along my faith journey I had found that at times, that longing for God can be best described as a rollercoaster. For many of us that journey takes us through some mountains tops or deep valleys where we get to experience both the closes of God but also that feeling of walking through the valley of shadow of death. If we are to let feelings dictate our walk with God, we can be on that emotional rollercoaster for a very long time. Along the way I had learned that if I am to focus on those feelings I will miss the bigger picture of God’s love for me. And along the way I had found that picture comes to life in the life and ministry of the church. When we are able to see that picture we can move from feelings to walking trusting God’s promises for us.

We are born with a need to belong, belong to God, understand that love, but also a need to belong to something that is bigger than us, something that can help us move the focus from us to the rest. And God has been using the church as a way to mold us, to challenge us and to grow us.

I want to encourage you to think about your own journey, and find those time where God has touched your life through the ministry of the church, where your life has been changed because of the love you found in the community of the saints we call church. And I want to encourage you to pray for those that are still walking alone in their journey. Pray that they too can find shelter and help in the midst of God’s family, and why not that our own church will be a safe harbor for each and anyone on that journey.

Be Blessed,

Bo M.

Better than Average

Romans 12:6-8

1 Corinthians 10:31

At one point in our history, the U.S. Air Force had a problem on their hands, with no real apparent solution. As airplanes became more powerful with capability of higher speeds, there was a significant increase in injuries and deaths to pilots. he Air Force started to study several different dimensional measurements to find the average size of a pilot in order to design a better cockpit, thinking that was the answer. What they found was that not a single pilot measured fit the average of all of the dimensions that were tested at the same time. Ultimately, this led to the development of what is now common in all vehicles; adjustable seats. And just like that, the number of plane crashes decreased.

In his book The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, Todd Rose discusses how educators can’t design lesson plans geared toward the average student because there is no such thing as average. Students come in all ability types, with different strengths and areas of weakness. And it is the teacher’s job to try to educate ALL students, regardless of their ability.

In the same way, we all come in all types, with a multitude of ability types. Some are better at time management than others (teach me how!!). Some are better at public speaking. Some are better at money management. ETC. God created us all that way. To be different. We were never meant to be like anyone else, or to fit into any sort of “average.” We are all unique in our own way. We have a set of God given talents that we can choose to use in a way that brings glory to God, or in a way that does not.

I pray that each of us uses our talents in a way that brings glory to God. In doing so, all of your actions with whatever talent you are sharing with others will show others what it means to be Christ followers. It is one thing to read our Bibles, attend Sunday services, and quietly go about being Christian. It is another to use the talents we have been blessed with to show others God’s never ending love.

Propitiation And Love

 

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Romans 5

I John 3.16, 4.10

2 Samuel 24.24

In this world in which we find ourselves, we must be more careful  than at any time in the past to define words.  Everyone has their own reality now, and of course their own definition of words.  For example what does leisure mean to you, what about joy,  how do you define happiness, or hatred.  The word I want to look at today is love, what does it mean to you?

Love today is defined often as a sentimental feeling,  a romantic concept of kindness, offering affection to someone, and sweetness.  The picture painted in song and poetry often describes love as a flower, perhaps a rose, often self centered or at least self interested.  The scriptures however give us a different view of true love.

The scriptures tell us that God is love, but how do we know what that means without the full explanation from scripture?  I John 3.16 says, ” In this we have come to know what love is, that He ( Jesus) laid down His life for us.”  God is love, a conclusion from the fact that He provided in Christ a propitiation for our sins. Webster defines propitiate as,          “to appease or satisfy.”  The Apostle John conveys no idea of love to anyone except by pointing to this propitiation. In essence Love is : God has made atonement for the sins of the world.

David alludes to the fact that love is costly, that nothing of value is free.  In 2 Samuel 24.24 Araunah the Jebusite offered his threshing floor, the yokes of the oxen, the threshing sledges, (for fire wood,) and the oxen for the sacrifice God had demanded of David, to King David.  “Everything, O king, Araunah  gives to the king.”  But king David replies, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.”  David found favor with God because of his broken and contrite heart, his sacrifices to God were of value because of No. 1 God appointed through Moses for Israel to offer sacrifices, without said appointment their is no value in the sacrifices spiritually, and No.2 the whole system was established to be of cost to the worshipper, in both time and money.  David understood that, thus his plea to pay.

Jesus also told of our part in the worship of God as being costly.  In Mark 12.43, the widows mite, she gave out of her poverty.   John 15.13, greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for another.   Luke 15.11 the prodigal son, The loving father humiliates himself in welcoming his wayward son home, and restoring him into sonship. Luke 10.30 the good samaritan, expends great time and effort to take the injured to get help, and then pays for extended care.  Each of these examples show great cost in service to others and worship of God.

For John to say “God is love” is exactly the same as to say “God has paid the debt He did not owe .”  He atoned for our sin through His Son, Jesus Christ, this then is love.  This “love” means that which is deeper than sin, deeper than sorrow, deeper than adoration, deeper than wonder, deeper than joy, and deeper than purity.   If we then say that we love God, how is it shown without cost to us.  If we say that we worship God, how is it shown without cost to us.  This free gift of salvation comes to us through costly love, what is our due response?

Karl

God’s Way’s

Deuteronomy 17-18

Review:  Animal offerings (17:1) to God are to be physically perfect…Those who worship idols and are witnessed by two or more are to be stoned to death (17:2-7)…If a court case is too difficult for local judgement, take it to a higher court (17:8-13)…Concerning a king (17:14-20), Israel wants one like the countries surrounding it…The Levite priests lead a regulated life (18:1-8)…Worshipping God is to be done as purely as humanly possible (18:9-14)…Prophets will be selected from Israel’s midst (18:15-22) to speak on God’s behalf.

Analysis:  Overall, one must say that an element of godly living is organization…Of course, one is tempted to keep the best animals for one’s self…Apostates (17:2-7) are done away with to maintain the purity of Israel’s worship, to differentiate it from the indigenous peoples worship surrounding them…My guess is that Jerusalem was the location of Israel’s Supreme Court (17:8).  The Levite adjudications made them the law of the land…The future Israel king is one with limited powers (no multiply horses = military might, no harems, no great wealth) as prescribed by priests and the Torah apparently (17:19-20)…The Levites were entrusted with the constitution – that is, the Torah.  They are to actualize (18:2, 5) God’s will to Israel…What can be safely said about the peoples religions surrounding Israel, in all of its forms, they were idol and oracle filled…Prophecy appears to be an occupation.  Those occupied (18:21-22) by it were verified as competent by the test of time…Christ was the greatest of all prophets (cp. Jn. 1:21, 6:14, Acts 3:22-23, 7:37).

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