First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @

The Feast of the Annunciation

Luke 1:26-38

If one counts back 9 months, or the time necessary for a baby to ready itself within the womb of it’s mother, from Christmas Day one arrives at today, March 25th.  I knew nothing of this “feast” until I was scheduled to write on it.  It recalls Gabriel’s visit of Mary, letting her know that she would be in 9 months time, the Mother of Jesus.

This festival has been celebrated since the 5th century AD.  It commemorates God’s actions in directly entering the human race as Jesus in order to save humanity from their sins.  Also celebrated is Mary’s acceptance of God’s task to be the Mother of God.  In fact, Mary enthusiastically responds in song (Luke 2:46-55), not realizing the heartbreak it would eventually lead to.

In my study of this Annunciation, I learned that recently the politics of women have become involved with it.  Feminists say Mary was put into a inferior, submissive position where she is portrayed as subordinating to male power.  Others see Mary, through her faith, making a liberated choice (a choice she could have declined) to cooperate in God’s plan for salvation – a plan that could not happen without a woman’s part in it.  In her “Magnificat, ” she celebrates her role in bringing God’s salvation to humankind.

The final controversy regarding their festival is it’s timing.  Some say that Jesus was born in the Spring, based on the shepherds visit (Luke 2:8-20).  They say shepherds aren’t out at the start of Winter, but are huddled with their animals inside.  I find merit in their argument.  I also find merit in the placement of Christmas on our calendar as it is.  Having both Easter and Christmas, nearly on top of each other, at this time of year looks problematic at best.

Say Jesus’ actual birth date was known positively to be April 3rd, so we celebrate Christmas then.  The movement of the moon shifts Easter Sunday’s date on the calendar from as early as March 22nd to as late as April 25th.  This reality would shift Christmas to be before Easter some years and after it on others.  Occasionally, it could be on the same Sunday. How well would that work in today’s world?  Imagine the department stores?  Easter and Christmas candy – sold together?  Imagine decorating our own homes?

Setting the date of Christmas as the 25th of December has a checkered past.  However, given the alternative of really knowing actual date of Jesus’ birth, it seems best as it is.  I chalk the seasonal timing of the liturgical seasons up to God’s Providence and our own ignorance.  In this case, our blissful ignorance has worked out to a more workable liturgical calendar.


More on Jonah




So the story that we remember and mostly talk about in the book of Jonah is him being swallowed by the great fish.   We teach it to the children in Sunday School, and V.B.S. and make paper boats , flannel graphs, and tell the bigger than life tale of Jonah being spit up on dry ground and then obeying Jehovah.  The children then have a paper boat or paper fish to take home to remind them of the lesson that God is going to make a big fish swallow you if don’t be good, or something like that.

The sad reality is that most modern day Christians don’t really believe the event happened.  An ever increasing amount of theologians even regard the book of Jonah as nothing more than a parable.  Yet in the gospels of Luke, chapter 11. 29, and Matthew, chapter 12.39, both quote Jesus as referring to the event as a prophetic sign.  “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster: so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  I’m standing with Jesus on this one.

Where we left off in the last blog Jehovah saved the sailors on the ship to Tarshish as they cried out to Him when they sought the God of Jonah, wondering if He might care about them.  And when Jonah went to Nineveh, the gentile nation known for their wickedness, he said simply “yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The entire city from greatest to least repented.  It seems just knowing that there was a day of justice coming, or a day of reckoning was near,  was enough for these people to examine their behavior and turn from it.  Jesus, in the gospels said that these very Ninevites would stand at the  judgement and condemn His generation, for they had less of a word from Jehovah than the current people Jesus was dealing with, they having the very Son of God in their presence.

When the Word of God comes to you, it doesn’t really matter who the messenger is, Jonah or Jesus, or even the fullness of explanation, it is our responsibility to recognize it and respond.  Today we have the Holy Spirit to reveal the word of God to us, in a variety of means, from radio, television, Christian periodicals, audio recordings, ministers, Bible studies, books etc.   We of all generations have even less of an excuse than the generation of Jesus, for He was limited to where He could physically be at any one time.  The call of God to us is first salvation, then obedience to His will in what He has specifically in mind for you.

Unlike Jonah let us not resist His call to us.



Genesis 29:1-14

Psalm 81

I Corinthians 10:1-4

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. George Santayana

God working for His people. The Creator acting in human history. This is the common link between all three of today’s readings. The story found in Genesis is that of Jacob being led by God to find his wife Rachel. In Psalms the writer reminds the people, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it”. Then, I Corinthians makes this amazing claim, “ The Israelites ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ”.

The lesson to be learned from this history is that God is rooting for us and working on our behalf. He led Jacob to the right wife, made a way out of slavery for the Israelites, and has given everyone the gift of Christ. His active goodness has been there since day one and has been blessing each of us in ways large and small. History has been and is the story of this remarkable truth.

So why are we as Christians so bad at learning this lesson? Why do we repeatedly focus on fear, anxiety,  losing our faith, going our own way, putting other gods before the one who has been there since the beginning? Why do we look for ultimate answers in limited people and things who will only last for a few years and pass away?

Maybe each generation just makes it too complicated. The God who delivered a nation from slavery and a human race from death puts it this simply, “Open you mouth wide and I will fill it”.

Will Ward

Always Be Humble and Kind

Ephesians 4:25-32


The Message

Just today at school we had a presentation for our team of 6th grade students, organized by a group of 8th grade mentor students. The presentation originated from the title of a song by Tim McGraw, Humble and Kind. The point they were trying to get across to their younger peers is the importance of being nice to each other, not spreading rumors, and just being good human beings. A large part of middle school is learning those skills as students try to navigate friendships, responsibility, and becoming more independent.

The Tim McGraw song has a decent message, although I don’t totally agree with all of the lyrics (see here). But one line in particular I do hold fast to, and relates to the passage I was assigned for today. It says:

“Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why
Bitterness keeps you from flying
Always stay humble and kind”

In Ephesians 4, Paul is making a case for how a Christian should carry themselves around others.

Vs. 25 – “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”

Vs. 29 “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[a] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

Vs. 31 “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.

To lie, speak evil words, hold bitterness, anger, wrath, and malice in our hearts is to fall away from what God intends for our lives. Instead, we should (vs. 32) “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

In the same way that teachers around the country (and likely around the world) work so hard each day to teach our students how to be good human beings, we adults need the reminder to be good to each other too. There is so much hateful speech being thrown around in our everyday lives. We are surrounded by it through the news, social media, interactions with others on Black Friday, and so on. How can we expect our children to learn these virtues if we adults, who are supposed to be role models, do a poor job of having the same virtues?

Let us always be humble and kind. Live by the Golden Rule; to treat others the way we would like to be treated. If we are to draw in more non-believers, it would be best to treat each other kindly, and with grace. As the hymn that I seem to refer to often goes “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Worship; Drop Everything and Listen






Psalm 95 (The Message)

Psalm 95 (NIV)

Exodus 16:27-35 (NIV))

Sing for joy, worship, and “Drop everything and listen, listen as he [God] speaks…”  The Psalmist is caught up in the worship of God who is great, wonderful, awesome, and the Good Shepherd (also see John 10, Jesus as the Good Shepherd). We read in verse 7 “We’re the people he pastures, the flock he feeds.”

The worship of God who created us, provides for us, and loves us as the Good Shepherd should move into listening and doing what God wants or instructs us to do.  Jesus said the same thing to his disciples in John Chapter 14, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23).

The Psalmist cautions us to hear, listen, and follow the Lord God.  He uses a negative example of the Israelites, the people of God, in the wilderness disobeying what God told them to do.  You can read about it in Exodus 16.  They are given manna, bread for the day, and are told to only collect one days worth of food each day.  They were to trust that God would provide the next day again for each one.  Instead, some wouldn’t trust and collected more than a days worth of food.  They were also told on the day before the sabbath to collect two day worth of food so they could rest and enjoy the sabbath day trusting God to provide.  Some disobey and do not trust the Lord.

Today sing for joy, worship the Lord, and drop everything to listen when God speaks to you.  What can you do today to trust God and obey as a follower of Jesus?

Traditional Christianity

Ephesians 5:1-9     Luke 11:14-28

If you were a parishioner going to the Lutheran Church in Weimar, Germany on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 24, 1715, you would be exposed to what would become the 54th Cantata of JS Bach entitled “Stand Steadfast Against Transgressions“…..Bach’s Church Cantatas are based on Scriptures related to the Lutheran Liturgical Season calendar…In this performance there is but one woman’s voice, an alto…..The instruments are 2 violins, a viola, a cello, a bass, and pipe organ…..The mood of the 3-movement piece is sober in keeping with the overall reflective, purple mood of Lent…..What is striking when learns what was done in Christian Churches of yesterdays is folk apparently came to Church 3 consecutive days for Christmas & Easter…..There is little doubt that the Church and it’s doings of yore played a far bigger part in the common persons life compared to today….. A quick review of Traditional Christianity follows…..He or She believes in the Authority of the Bible which speaks of a Triune God…..Christ sacrificial crucifixion atones for the sins of all it matters to…..Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven are proof of His identity and God’s sin forgiveness for humans that feel the need for it…..Following Christ is a choice that some are compelled, for a variety of reasons, to make…..The ideal Christian life is achieved by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him or her to live a morally and ethically (read: 10 Commandments, examples of Christ, and so on)…..A Christian should feel the need to help a lost world find itself and God/Christ along the way….The celebration of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper by a follower basically commemorates and reaffirms what she or he  believes…..The rest of Christianity is controversial, less important, but still fun to talk about with people that have the right attitude towards our latitude (Romans 14-15:13) in beliefs …..The English language translation of German language Cantata follows…..

ARIA…..Stand firm against sin, otherwise its poison seizes hold of you…..Do not let Satan blind you for to desecrate the honor of God meets with a curse, which leads to death.

RECITATIVE…..The nature of loathsome sins is indeed from outside very beautiful; but you must afterwards with sorrow and frustration experience much hardship…..From outside it is gold but if you want to look more closely it is shown to be only an empty shadow and whitewashed tomb…..It is like the apples of Sodom and those who join with it do not reach God’s kingdom…..It is like a sharp sword that goes through our body and soul.

ARIA…..Who commits sin is of the devil, for it is he who has produced them…..But if against its despicable mobs with true devotion you stand firm, sin has at once fled away.

I’m curious to any and all reactions and commentaries to all of this…..


He Can Calm the Raging Seas




Jonah:  chapters 1-3

John 3.16

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah,”saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.”  Jonah, a Hebrew, was being called to go to a Gentile nation, to call them to repentance. This must have been so against everything that Jonah knew. Was Jonah prejudiced against the gentiles?  Yes, as were all Jews, they were the chosen ones of God and were told in the Torah to keep themselves pure, and separated.   So Jonah arose and went the other way to the port city of Joppa to catch a ride on a boat to Tarshish, most likely the island city of Tyre, Isaiah 23.1, which was still in the provinces of the Jews.

To be succinct, a storm arose, Jonah was thrown into the sea, a fish created by God swallowed Jonah, Jonah finally cries out to God, the fish spits him up onto dry ground, the word of God comes to Jonah a second time, Jonah obeys God and  goes to that great city, he cries out that destruction is coming, the city repents from the greatest to the least, and God relents from destroying the city.

Our concern today is the sailors on the ship going to Tarshish.  A great wind arises while in the Mediterranean Sea and the storm is about to break up the ship.  The sailors fear for their lives all crying out to their gods, while throwing the cargo overboard to lighten the load,  fear has everyone in it’s grip. Except Jonah, he is sleeping through all this chaos, calm as a sleeping cat.  Scurrying about, in full panic mode trying everything they could the captain finds Jonah, gently nudges him,  and says, “Awake, O sleeper!  Call upon your God!  We have tried everything we know, our gods don’t hear us,  maybe your God will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”

Maybe?  Maybe your God, the great I Am, Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, Adonnai, the Creator of this world, the Deliverer of Israel from the Egyptians, the Redeemer of mankind, the Sustainer of all life, maybe He is concerned about us?   A more pure and simple question could never have been asked.   Yes, a resounding yes!   In fact and deed Jehovah did care about those men, He calmed the sea, He spared their lives!

In Mark 9.22 a similar question was asked by a man whose boy was demon possessed, ” if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” and again yes,  Jesus could do something for the boy, and did cast that demon out.

John 3.16 ” For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” tells of God’s concern for mankind,  He was the one who was sending the Israeli prophet Jonah to the gentile nation where Nineveh was the capital city, and when His word reached their ears they heeded His call and repented.

Like the sailors who knew nothing about the God of the Hebrews, and the father of the child who didn’t even know what to ask Jesus for, we too sometimes limit ourselves in our relationship with God because of ignorance of what to ask Him for or what He is capable of accomplishing in our lives.  The scriptures truly reveal all there is to know about our Savior, but we need to act in faith upon that knowledge.  When the sailors acted by throwing Jonah overboard, the winds stopped, and when the father declared his belief in Jesus, his son was healed.

John 4. 41, ” It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”



There is hope for us all


John 7:53-8:11

In this passage from John, we hear about an encounter between Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees, a crowd of people, and a woman accused of adultery. Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Tabernacles. I, not being much of a Jewish historian, had to do a little research to learn what this festival was all about. The Festival of the Tabernacles was a week-long remembrance of the Exodus and the Israelites’ time living in booths in the wilderness. All male Jews were required to attend, and they built booths to stay in outside the city to live in with their families. See Leviticus 23:33-44 and Nehemiah 8:13-20 to learn more about the requirements.

In attending this required festival, Jesus has basically walked right into the lion’s den so-to-say. In John 5: 1-18, Jesus heals a lame man, and the Jews were looking to have him killed for performing a miracle because he did so on the Sabbath. Compound that with the fact that in this same John 5 passage, Jesus states that he is God, which infuriates the Jewish people even more.  So to show up at the Festival of the Tabernacles is just asking for more trouble to ensue for Jesus.

Not one to back down from a debate with the religious leaders, Jesus goes back to the temple to teach. While there, the Pharisees bring forth a woman whom they have just caught in the act of adultery. According to the Law, see Leviticus 20:10, this woman should be put to death. I find it interesting that only the woman from the situation is being brought forth, but I digress. The Pharisees are looking to trick Jesus, but he is ready for them. He nonchalantly draws some words in the dirt and ignores them for the most part. But, his judgement is awesome…whoever hasn’t sinned ever before can cast the first stone. And what happens next, as Jesus continues to play in the dirt? Everyone leaves because they all know they too are sinners.

What I take away from this is that there is still hope for me, and for you too. Going back to 613 laws of the Old Testament, we all fall way short of expectations. If I just look at the first 10 commandments only, I fall short. I’m guessing you do too. But Jesus came to this world to save, not condemn, us (John 12:47). We are expected to live according to what the Bible tells us, but Jesus knows we will falter over and over again. He still loves us all the more. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

All You Need Is Love (from Jesus)

Psalm 128; Numbers 21:4-9; Hebrews 3:1-6


The section of Hebrews talking about Jesus being greater than Moses got me thinking about how the people of that time must have reacted. This led me to think about the time John Lennon said the Beatles where more popular than Jesus and the outrage ensued.  Of course, what Lennon said was less based on religion and more on the insane popularity of the Beatles at the time.  However this passage in Hebrews comes from a prophet who was proclaiming the Word of God and what should be done in a post Jesus era.

At that time, Moses would have been seen as one of, if not the greatest prophet.  He had brought the Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert and to the edge for the promise land.  In addition to all of that – he had communicated the laws by which God’s followers should live. 

Can you imagine the massive shock to the people of the New Testament days!  They were being told that Jesus should be held in a higher regard then Moses –  the prophet they had been adhering to for centuries.  I’m sure the reaction was a mix of confusion from some and anger from others.

It is a great reminder to us during this lenten season that Jesus Christ is the greatest figure to have ever lived.  He trumps Moses and even the Beatles.  In these days of so many people following celebrities and political figures – may we remember that first and foremost we follow Jesus!


Will Ward

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