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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

March 2017

Forgiveness

Psalm 130

Ezekiel 33: 10-16

Pride. Envy. Gluttony. Lust. Anger. Greed. Sloth. The seven deadly sins proposed by Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th century monk. And, as I read more about him, I find that there was actually an 8th deadly sin, which was love of self. It is believed that all other sins of human nature stem from these characteristics. There is plenty of these traits to go around for us all, and we all fall into these pitfalls throughout our lives.

But there is hope for us all in the form of forgiveness. We can either focus on the doom and gloom of sin and whatever level of guilt that we should feel goes along with our sins. OR, we can focus on the fact that we can simply turn to our great God, and simply say “I’m sorry.” He knows our sin even before we commit them, but, as a loving father, he also always waits for us to turn to him and ask for his forgiveness. Do we deserve that forgiveness? Not really. But our God is a God of grace and mercy, and if we ask, we shall receive.

In the passages from Psalms and Ezekiel today, we hear about a human race in need of God’s forgiveness. And God is waiting to hand out that forgiveness if we are willing to turn away from sin and seek out God. As it says in Ezekiel (vs. 12) that trying to be righteous is not what is going to save us. No matter how righteous we may try to be, we will still fall short of God’s expectations. But as stated in Psalm 130 (vs. 7) with God there is love, and he has the power to redeem.

And in the same way that God forgives us for our shortcomings, we need to do the same for each other. I know that this is something that I struggle with often. I find myself holding onto grudges, and at times I find my mind going to how I can get back at the person who did me wrong. But eventually I get talked off the ledge by someone and come back to my senses. It does me no good to hold grudges, and it takes away from the joy of the life I have been given.

So just as the Father forgives each of us for our shortcomings, we too need to turn the other cheek and forgive each other. If the one true God, who, in the snap of a finger can bring the rains for 40 days and 40 nights and wipe out civilization, instead chooses to look past our transgressions and forgive us and love us, we need to do the same for each other. 

Check out this song by Matthew West: Forgiveness.

Walking down the memory lane

As I am writing this blog, I am sitting in my friends den in Holland, MI. I love coming up here, a few times a year, since i get to see them and spend time with them. As most visits go, we talk about what’s new, about what is old, a little politics and so on, we enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants downtown, while we remember some of the many moments we got to enjoy since we known each other.

And that is the beauty of these visits for me, that feeling of familiar, of we know each other, we share with one another in a way that is meaningful. It is more than walking down the memory lane, it is about meaningful relationship that we keep alive and enjoy every chance we have.

Our walk with God, is something along those lines. Sometimes it might be the familiar, the walking down the memory lanes reminiscing of the times past, sometimes is about the new and exciting time that we live in, and sometimes is about just walking along side. But whatever the aspect of that walk, at the end of the day the walk is about knowing each other, knowing God and letting God close to you.

I want to encourage you to read Jesus’s prayer for his disciples as found in John 17:6-26. Jesus knew his disciples, and he knew the things that they will need in the days to come. And his words capture the struggle that will knock at their door. Jesus prayer is a prayer that comes form a close walk with his disciples, from a familiar place.

Let your prayers come from the same place, from knowing the God of grace,  praying for yourself and people around you the things that are comes from a deep place of knowing of being familiar. let each day become a walk along side with your savior, with yourself and those that God brings in your life.

 

Be blessed,

Bo M.

To be or not to be?

Colossians 1:3-14 

Ephesians 2:1-10

Today’s devotional is simple.  Paul makes clear in this letter to the church at Colosse a simple perspective…if you know about and believe in Jesus the Christ do you lead a life “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God”.

The Letter to the Colossians is about vocation…and with this word comes to two common misunderstandings.  The first is a cultural idea of career or job.  The second is the idea of one leading a religious life like that of the monks.  Both fall woefully short of a biblical understanding – one that can be understood if we think about Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.  Vocation is about being raised from the dead…made alive in Christ and to the reality that we are not placed on this earth to merely exist.  Rather, we exist to live out God’s call to each of us.

Vocation is not simply about choosing something to do…it is about responding to God’s call to you in your life…today!  So, if you believe that God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”…if you believe this how are you responding to God?

Hamlet’s famous soliloquy begins “To be or not to be”.  Hamlet is thinking about life and death and pondering a state of being versus a state of not being – being alive and being dead.  Appropriate words that parallel Paul’s texts.  For those who truly claim to follow Christ, vocation is the state of being alive in Christ…bearing fruit…fully pleasing to God.  How do you respond to “To be or not to be (a follower of Christ)?

When God Is Ignored and Disobeyed

Psalm 146 (NIV)

Isaiah 59:9-19 (NIV)

Acts 9:1-20 (NIV)

In Isaiah we read what happens when a people ignores God or decides that faith in the Lord is no longer relevant to their life and nation.  14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.  15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The social fabric of Israel is broken and the nation is in disarray.  “They are like the blind who cannot find their way. The cause of the blindness is stated in vv. 12-13: their rebellion against God, which results in the lack of justice and righteousness and trust and honesty (v. 14) (Asbury Bible Commentary).

In Acts 9 we read of Paul’s conversion experience.  However, before Paul met Jesus, we discover the terrible things he was doing. He was a destroyer of the church.  Paul thought he was doing God’s will and serving the Lord.  He was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

Paul was sincere in his beliefs but he was sincerely wrong. He misunderstood the plan and purpose of God and was destroying the early church.  Thankfully, Jesus appeared to him and transformed Paul’s life.

In Psalm 146 we are given the expression of deep faith in the Lord. Here we find the guidance, goodness, and grace of God. Only God is worthy of our deepest trust and hope.  Each day may we put our trust and hope in the Lord God.  For “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

 

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

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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.

Karl

HISTORY ON REPEAT

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

NRSV

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?

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