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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

February 2017

How Big Is God ?

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Ezekiel 4.4

Jeremiah 20.9

Hebrews 9.13-14

John 4.24

So how do we define ourselves in modern Christianity?  Is the Bible exchanged for a seminar notebook, or the latest book on Christian living?  Is the gospel exchanged for a salvation tract?  Going to church for a television show?  Why do we wear crosses on our lapel’s or around our necks?  Is it for good luck, or a clear identifiable statement of our relationship with Jesus?

When I was a child my parents were convinced that dancing was an identifiable evil and therefore in fifth grade during the two weeks of social dancing class I carried a note to the teacher  excusing me from it.  I’m not sure my friends understood the stand for Christianity I was taking, I know I didn’t, I just felt weird and sidelined.  Why was it so important to my parents  and our church?   We also didn’t smoke, drink alcohol, curse, tell lies, or go to the movies.  I suppose it was a list of manageable rules regarding Godliness that was attainable.  But I’m not sure that God who used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, parted the Red Sea, split the rock where water gushed forth from dry ground, and was used to lead Israel to the promised land, did so, so that my Christianity could be identified as not dancing.   I’m not sure that God had one  prophet lay on his left side for three hundred ninety days to bear the iniquity of Israel, had others thrown into pits, were put into stocks, beaten, sawn in two, and suffered all manner of hardship so that my Christianity could be identified as not going to to the movies to see “The Ten Commandments.” Were the apostles shipwrecked, hungry,  stoned, exiled, and put into prison so that we could take such an important stand in identifying ourselves as Christians by the wearing of a cross shaped pin? And I’m not sure that Jesus died, shedding His blood,  was raised from the tomb, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to occupy our hearts, so that our identity as Christians would be measured by our not eating in restaurants that serve alcohol.  How did modern Christianity bring us to this level of commitment?

As my childhood church had, what I believe, misplaced priorities, never seeing God for whom He was entirely, but merely a small portion of Him, so I believe the church today is placing God into too small a container.  If we see God as only a God of love we are missing much.  He has revealed Himself as so much more in the scriptures. In my studies I have identified at least 37 attributes of Jehovah, some are enduring attributes, some enabling attributes, and “we who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and the whole truth.” John 4.24.  He is immutable, eternal, sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, holy, righteous, truth, and love.  When we pray to the God that we have limited Him to be, we aren’t really praying to Jehovah, for He is so much more.

I have an I-Phone that I use to make phone calls, some texts, voice mail, and that’s about it. I have heard there is much more it can do,  there is a compass, calculator, GPS, and you and God knows what else, but because I am restricted by my own self imposed ignorance, most of the phones abilities are wasted on one such as me. Don’t let your relationship with God be as limited as mine with my phone find out who He really is. 2 Timothy 2.15 “Study to show thyself approved…”

A comparison of the old with the new,  Hebrews 9. 13-14 “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Karl

 

 

 

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You Got to Have Faith

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Psalm 78

Acts 7

John 3:16-17

I would imagine that all parents can relate to this. If a middle school aged student (or group of students) is making poor choices, as the classroom teacher, I have the obligation to redirect their behavior in hopes that they will make better choices that will allow them to maximize their potential in the classroom, and ultimately adulthood. A select few students seemingly never need to be redirected by me the entire school year. For some students, it takes just a gentle reminder on occasion, and they get right back on track. For others, the redirection lasts about 3.5 seconds. It is those students whose names I have the least trouble learning at the beginning of the school year.

For the pre-adolescent student, they are working on learning what it means to be independent, to have more control over the choices they make, and learning from mistakes they make (hopefully). Having caring teachers who provide a the appropriate amount of guidance, along with supportive parents, make for successful students. But, as already stated, periodic, or sometimes, even regular, redirection is needed to get them on the right path.

In the Psalm and Acts passages, we hear about the unfaith of the Israelites and their need for constant redirection. At times, just redirection by their appointed human leaders (Moses, Jacob, and such) is all that it takes to bring the faith of the Israelites back to focusing on God. At other times, it literally takes an act of God (10 plagues, parting of the Red Sea) for the Israelites to be snapped back into reality. The same unbelief is seen in the religious leaders of the early 1st century, who still refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

I love how Stephen puts the pharisees in their place. In science class, we use the phrasing claim-evidence-reason. Make a claim about some phenomenon, collect evidence, then use scientific reasoning to show how the evidence proves or disproves your claim. Stephen does something similar, guided by the Holy Spirit. He makes the claim for Jesus as Messiah, and then when questioned by the pharisees, he uses a variety of different instances where the Israelites lost faith in God despite all of the signs that God showed them. Then Stephen ends his statements of evidence by stating:

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

Middle school students, at this point, would most likely shout out something like “You just got roasted!” or “Burn!” And with their egos being knocked down, the pharisees have Stephen dragged out and stoned.

Fast forward to 2017, and we continue to be human, and to lack faith. We get redirected back on the straight and narrow path often, when we seek out God and trust in his ways. But it is this continued struggle with our faith that gives us need for a savior. John reminds us  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We, being human, will always fall off the path. The psalmist says “Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.” God will continue to remain faithful, even when we don’t. Just as the prodigal son was welcomed with open arms, so too will God always welcome us back, no matter how big or small our sins may be. God does so love the world!

Grace and peace…..TO YOU!!!

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Today’s passage:  “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)

Devotional Thought:  Our Tuesday discussion group is looking at Romans and the importance Romans had to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.  This greeting by Paul is typical of his letters to the various churches to which he wrote.

Greeters and greetings…they can make a difference!  But…sometimes I think we take them for granted – maybe even overlook them.  We talk about greeting people in Christian love. “Grace and peace to you…”  But this greeting by Paul to the church in Rome has a very special perspective that many often miss – did you catch it?  It doesn’t say “grace and peace to those who are like us”…nor, does it say, “grace and peace who believe the same things, have the same politicos preferences, etc”.  It says…”to all God’s beloved in Rome…”.  Other translations say, “I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God” (NLT); “To those in Rome who are dearly loved by God…” (CEB).  You get the point…not the ones we like or don’t like, or the ones we agree with or don’t, or those who…again, I think you get the point.  Paul says grace and peace to all those who GOD loves!!

The next time you come across the opportunity to greet someone…someone you know or don’t know…even a complete stranger…don’t look past the opportunity to shake their hand, give them a hug, say hello with a warm and genuine smile with the simple reality that they are loved by God! We who are called to be God’s people…followers of Jesus…we, are to be about relationships…deep and long-lasting relationships.  

“Grace and peace to you…” It can be a life-changer for anyone……..

Finding The Life that is Really Life

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Luke 18:18-30 (NIV)

Proverbs 3:27-35 (NIV)

A particular young ruler has everything, he’s wealthy, but it’s not enough. Something is lacking.  He is searching for life, a more complete life, the meaningful life.  While he keeps the commandments, there’s an emptiness.  He trusts in what he does, what he can do, in short, in himself;  but it’s not enough.  He yearns for more.  He has become aware of Jesus.

Perhaps this teacher has an insight, something that will help him find his way.  Jesus understands what is going on.  The ruler trusts in himself, his abilities, and what he has accumulated.  He hasn’t placed his trust in God.  He trusts what he can do; i.e. obey commandments.

Jesus realizes there is one thing lacking.  He asks the ruler to completely trust God.  “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The conversation ends in sadness.  The ruler can’t do that.

And what about us?  What are we holding onto?  What do we not want to let go of in order to completely trust God?  What would Jesus say to us that we may have life and trust in him?   The disciples ask, as we might ask, “Who then can be saved?”

It’s so good to hear Jesus reply, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  God is gracious we can put our trust in him for life.

“Abram’s Pursuit”

The idea behind this blog comes from a piece of music by the same title by David Holsinger,” that I am practicing with JJC’s Community Band on Monday nights.  I have played clarinet with this group for over 30 years now – time fly’s.  For your listening pleasure…

The inspiration for this program music comes from harrowing passages in the Book of Genesis (12:1-14:16, 19:1-38), having to do with Abram, later Abraham, and his attempts to save Lot and his family from the destructive influences and ultimate divine judgement of Sodom.  These passages cover a fair amount of ground, far more than we cover in a session of MBS on Saturday morning’s.  Summarizing it all, one can say…

  • Abram is Lot’s uncle (12:5).  Their heritage (11:31), upbringing, and environment are nearly identical.
  • Abram, Sarai,  and Lot had sufficient faith  (15:6, 2 Pet. 2:7-8) that they, and their servants (12:6-9) were chosen by God to venture to Canaan to lead the expansion of God’s kingdom (12:1-3) on earth.
  • Abram chooses a quiet, rural, godly setting for them to live (13:1-4) on.
  • Lot and his family, wanting “more out of life” separate themselves from Abram & Sarai.  They are drawn by the “greener pastures” (13:10-11) of Sodom’s valley (12:12-13).  Eventually, they becomes entrapped the valley’s civil war (14:1-12).  Abram hear’s of Lot’s family plight and assembles a rescue squad (14:14-16) to remove them from the conflict.
  • A period of time passes (14:17-18:33).   Lot and his family, having not seen and experienced enough, return to Sodom.   Lot gains power through government employment (19:1) and coincidently loses the power to control his own family (19:4-14).
  • God decides to foreclose Sodom.  He sends two angels in the form of ordinary men (19:1) to rescue  (19:15-22) Lot and his family from Sodom, prior to burning the place to the ground (19:12-13, 23-25).

The lessons taught from this encounter are many, including the following…

  1. It seems God has influenced human activities through the application of His angels can be skinned as humans (19:1).  This may or may not be happening today.  The belief of this depends on one’s perspective and faith.
  2. Because of this history, Sodom & Gomorrah are used as an example in our Bible and elsewhere of evil personified (cp. Isa. 1:9-10, Jer. 49:18, Matt. 10:15, Jude 7, etc.) and the absolute destruction it can bring.
  3. Even those chosen by God are morally influenced to their detriment by the company they keep and their environment (19:30-36).
  4. Finally, there appears to be two varieties of God’s chosen and followers, even within families.  There is the “Lot” variety – those heavily influenced and takes a liking to our fallen world.  There are the “Abraham” variety – those more (no one is perfect, including Abram and Sarai (12:10-20, 16:1-16) more heavily influenced by God; who reject much of our fallen world, and more Spiritually driven.

Grace Is

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Luke 15.1-32

Romans 6.1

Galations 3.23-24

One of the best ways to define grace is to describe what it isn’t, or to describe ungrace. Ungrace is any law, rule, regulation, demand.  School teachers teach math, language, history, etc. then they test the students to see if they have learned, and then grade them according to how much they have understood and retained.  Some are A students, some are F students, and varying degrees of understanding in between. A student either learns well or not. No one gets a high grade because of compassion, they earn the grade they are given.  In the same manner the Military ranks persons according to their abilities, earned through study, training, time of service, discipline, merit, and hard work.  No one is given higher rank because of compassion, it is always earned.  In the scriptures the Law of Moses is ungrace, it shows what is right and wrong, demands adherence, yet gives no power to the follower to enable him to keep it.

In Luke 15 the story begins with the tax gatherers, which were the despised traitors, betrayers, who sold out to the Roman occupiers, they were the snitches, the narcs, who had no allegiance to Israel. The sinners were non-practicing Israelies. They gave up trying to keep the Law, constantly falling short, the effort became too great so they quit.  The Pharisees, though noble in their effort to keep the Law, were the epitome of ungrace, in that they had no compassion for anyone who didn’t measure up to the standards set by the Law and themselves.

Then Jesus comes on the scene and welcomes the sinners, and tax gatherers, even to the point of receiving and dining with them.  When confronted by the Pharisees for this obvious violation of misplaced value, Jesus teaches them with three parables defining grace.  “Which of you,”  is His starting address, putting the onus on them to answer.  Would you abandon your sheep, give up looking for your lost coin, or reject your own sons?

Galations 3.23-24 says,” we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith that was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ…”  The parables of Luke are a picture of grace, Jesus our Savior, is the waiting father, the searching woman, the shepherd searching the briars for the lost sheep.  He is grace personified.  Grace can’t be earned nor is it ever deserved. The only demand that comes with grace is the understanding that we need it.  The tax gathers understood, the sinners understood, the thief on the cross understood.  The love of God for us in the finished work of Christ on the cross is grace.

Mercy is, not getting what we deserve. Grace is, getting what we don’t deserve.

Karl

 

The Good Stuff

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Matthew 7:7-11

Man, I really wish I had a 4-wheel drive pickup truck, crew cab, full sized bed. How much easier home projects would be if I just had a truck that could carry home supplies when I need them! If only my house was a little bigger, with one more bedroom, and a den or office where I could work in a quiet room on grading papers or typing blog entries. If only…

In this passage from Matthew, we read about how all we have to do is ask God and He will give it to us. Or at least that might be how some people might interpret this passage. But in reality, we know that isn’t quite the point being made by Jesus here. One phrase in particular caught my attention as I read this. In verse 11 we find “How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” It doesn’t say ALL things; it says GOOD things. God will grant us the things that He has determined will be GOOD, which I interpret as He will give us NEEDS, which may not always match our WANTS.

We may never know what God thinks we need, but that doesn’t mean we should not ask just in case we are wrong. Instead, I think we need to make our requests in prayer, but with an added line within that prayer. “Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done.” I am allowed to ask for things. If I don’t ask, I will never receive. Sort of like the old Wayne Gretzky quote that says “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” How will you know what God will grant or not grant if you never ask? At the same time, we have to realize that when we do ask for something that isn’t granted to us, or not granted to us as quickly as we would like, that someone much higher up that any of us had a different plan in mind. And that plan is always to bring us closer to Him and ultimately bring Him glory.

So, ask, seek, knock, and the door will be opened; if it is God’s will for us. The one who is faithful and just will provide us with exactly what we need when we need it most.

Enjoy this amazing mid-February weather! God bless you all.

Learning from those before us

As I am teaching confirmation, I am always in awe of the comes from the foundation of those that walked before us. As I was looking at prayer, I was surprised once again by how much doctrine was a part of daily prayers. In many ways it followed the jewish pattern of confusing your beliefs in a way that returned faith as words were spoken.

I want to challenge you today to look at your prayers and see if you can discover who God is in your own words, or if your prayers are just a long list of suplications.

Here is one of those prayers to help you along the way:

The radiance of the Father’s splendor, the Father’s visible image, Jesus Christ our God, peerless among counselors, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come, the model after which Adam was formed, for our sakes became like a slave: in the womb of Mary the virgin, without assistance from any man, he took flesh.…

Enable us, Lord, to reach the end of this luminous feast in peace, forsaking all idle words, acting virtuously, shunning our passions, and raising ourselves above the things of this world.

Bless your church, which you brought into being long ago and attached to yourself through your own life-giving blood. Help all orthodox pastors, heads of churches, and doctors [theologians].

Bless your servants, whose trust is all in you; bless all Christian souls, the sick, those tormented by evil spirits, and those who have asked us to pray for them.

Show yourself as merciful as you are rich in grace; save and preserve us; enable us to obtain those good things to come which will never know an end.

May we celebrate your glorious birth, and the Father who sent you to redeem us, and your Spirit, the Giver of life, now and forever, age after age. Amen.

 

—A Syriac Christmas liturgy
(late third or early fourth century)

 

Be blessed,

Bo M.

Psalm 119:33-40

 

Exodus 22:21-27

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

This statement from I Corinthians can be overwhelming. It suggests, no it really states, that every action a person takes needs to be giving glory to God.  Think of just the basic implications of this – sleeping, eating, brushing your teeth, texting, watching Netflix, – everything should have the aim of honoring God.

If this was truly our goal every moment as a Christian, how would our lives… how would your life have to change?

When I was younger, my mother had a habit of praying while she was driving. This is a practice I do not necessarily condone. At times it was a little disconcerting as my brother and I would watch our mother drive while at the same time sending her requests up to God – often for the better part of five to ten minutes! If, during these prayer sessions,  one of us would start to say something the other would blurt out, “Wait! Mom’s not done with her prayers yet.” Perhaps the greatest moment in this prayer-driving history was the morning when my mother was so distracted by her silent prayers that she side-swiped the garage door, ripping the driver side mirror off the car. We have never let her live that down.

What was especially interesting to me as a boy was that my mother often prayed for things that seemed somewhat pointless. She might pray for a trip to the grocery story, a drive to another city, our day at school, or even going to a movie. As a 10 year old, I sometimes imagined that maybe she expected our family to stand outside the grocery story with a mega phone telling people they needed to repent. But, then she would always end her prayer with this statement, “That through this we will somehow bring you glory”.

As I read I Corinthians 10 today, I now realize that my mother was teaching my brother and I how to follow this great commandment. Her prayers about every day things were not pointless, but instead were showing us the main point. The main point being that the Christian life is not random, it is not about ourselves, but is instead a constant opportunity to reflect God’s glory.

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