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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

March 2017

God Has a Plan

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Jeremiah 29:10-14

Today, I write specifically for a friend who has been dealt somewhat of a rough hand. Over the course of the 6 or so years that I have known her, she has been through a lot of stuff. Family issues. Health issues. Work issues. This is one of those people who would give you the shirt off her back; works tirelessly to always put others before herself. And yet, despite of how hard she works to be the best teacher she can be for her students, it seems like it is never quite enough.

I’m sure some of the readers of this blog know someone similar. Maybe that person is you, the reader. For all of those who seem to be in that great rut in life that seems to only get deeper, I pray for you.

In this Jeremiah passage, we hear about the sufferings of Israel, who have been forced into exile in Babylon. Not just for a few days, months, or even a few years, but 70 years! Think about that for a second. In those days, the average lifespan for a human was less than 40 years. That means that two generations of Israelites would have lived outside of their homeland, with much uncertainty. But God had a bigger plan. After their time of exile was up, they would return home, and be prosperous. And they would be thankful and worship God all the more.

I think of Job, who was raked over the coals over and over again. But God allowed Job to face all of those horrific hardships because he knew that Job was strong in faith and would endure. Of course Job wasn’t perfect, and had his share of doubts, but he came out better on the other end. God had a bigger plan for Job too.

Finally, one of the most reassuring Bible verses for me is the last words Jesus speaks in Matthew 28: “I am with you, ALWAYS, to the end of the age.” We have not been forsaken by our God. He will remain faithful to us, so long as we remain faithful to Him. Trust in His plan.

A few thoughts on a old Sunday School lesson

Luke 17:11-19

Yesterday I was teaching the older kids Sunday School class, and we were looking at the story of the Ten Men with Leprosy. As we were talking about the story with the kids, I was reminded of few things that I think I will share with you today:

 

  1. We live in a world where leprosy is somehow a thing of the past. “In 2012, the global leprosy statistics show that less than 20 countries reported >1000 new cases, indicating that leprosy is gradually becoming limited to a small number of countries.” – http://www.who.int/wer/2013/wer8835.pdf?ua=1
  2. With that in mind, I would like to submit to you that for many of us relating to the Biblical story might be very hard since we had not been affected by leprosy or its results. The idea of isolation, leaving your own home, family and living in a secluded highly regulated environment might cause a lot of anxiety to all while we might not dealing with such stigma, our own world is still dealing with so many cases where people live isolated, unable to relate or integrate in our society.
  3. And there is a silent voice that cries out: See me! I am here! I see you! Jesus and his disciples had a choice. Ignore the group that was shouting: “Have mercy on us”; and doing so abide by the rules of that time, or deal with their cry. And the amazing thing is that faith comes and plays a role in this story. And where that Faith meets human need, healing, even though now perfect, happens.
  4. As people of faith, we are called to listen to that silent cry, and in faith reach out, while it might not be easy at time to do so, we are to listen and respond to the needs of those around us.

I would like to encourage you to open your eyes to the needs of those around you, to the things that are not easy to see, to the young teenager that has a hard time relating to his/hers peers or their own family, to the lonely neighbor that would love to tell their story to you, or to that friend that seems to have it all together and  inside are on the brink of falling apart.Who is the one that says: Have mercy on me.

I pray that we can have the heart of Jesus, being able to see and speak faith in the lives of those around us each and every day,

Be blessed,

Bo M

 

Not So Fast

 
What is a fast?
The season of Lent is a time when many Christians decide to fast. For most people this includes the practice of giving up some behavior. In its most biblical sense, a fast is an act of sacrifice that is meant to bring an individual closer to God.
However, in our comfortable and consumer culture I think that many people fast “with conditions”. We begin by picking a fast that might benefit us personally, and then go on to put limitations on how much we are willing to sacrifice. So, if we take a Lenten break from certain foods we also usually build in “cheat days” – you know, the “Sunday isn’t really part of the forty days of Lent” rule. Or, there are the many “loopholes” we place on fasting. For instance, if a person takes a break from computers there is the argument that they still have to use them at work or decide “it doesn’t count if its on my phone”.
But our Scripture passages from today do not look at our relationship with God as something mainly for our benefit and convenience. Psalm 51 is David’s plea to God for forgiveness after the king has had an affair with another man’s wife. Likewise, Matthew 18 warns against the effects our personal sin can have on those around us. Both passages are shocking reminders of how sinful and selfish even those who believe in God can be.
Perhaps it is Isaiah 58, however, that most clearly calls out the bold faced tendency we all have to make obedience serve our own purposes:
“ ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and God has not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and God has not noticed?’
“ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard
on high. “ (verses 3-4)
Maybe real biblical fasting isn’t about benefits, or conditions, or loopholes. Maybe Lenten fasting is about ending hypocrisy. It is about choosing a sacrifice to discipline ourselves, our bodies, our decisions to be consistently true to God with no guarantee of any other payoff.

Will Ward

Change my heart…

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Psalm 51

“Change My Heart, O God”…we sing it in church as a response to confession many times.  This is a wonderful psalm – one that has, and continues to provide perspective on the meaning of confession.  Psalm 51 can provide a daily reminder and help for us as we journey during this season we call Lent…40 days for us to focus on the things that cause us to turn away from our God…the God who is ever patient…waiting for us to turn back to him.

This is a Psalm of David, a man after God’s heart – one who has stumbled…Bathsheba was her name and Nathan, the prophet, has pointed it out to David in a  clear and succinct way…”you are the man” David…(2 Samuel 12)

While this Psalm is a good understanding of confession, there is a very important perspective…”Because I know my wrongdoings…”  Like all of us, David has wrongdoings – the things that turn us away from God. Key to this Psalm is the recognition by David, and, likewise, our recognition as well.  In this light, the message is simple – no matter who we are or what we do…we can always come to God seeking restoration.  Restoration that brings joy…faithful service…fellowship…the promises of restoration in and with God all by God’s grace.

During Lent, we set aside time to understand the ultimate grace of God as we reflect on Jesus…his life, death, burial, and resurrection.  And like the song we often sing…when we turn away from God, we can be confident in the grace of God made real in Jesus that allows us to turn back to God: “Change my heart, O God, make it ever true.  Change my heart, O God, may I be like you…”

As you go through Lent, let’s focus on God changing our hearts from the things that cause us not to be like the one who went to the cross for us…Jesus.  And in these 40 days reaffirming the immense and unfailing grace of the God we can turn to time and again!!  If you’d like to add this song to your daily Lenten journey, you can find it here: “Change My Heart, O God”

Ash Wednesday

And so, the most paradoxical season on the Christian calendar is upon us once again…..I have great difficulty defining what Lent really means……This confusion stems from what made Easter Sunday and our salvation possible – the confluence of good and evil which met at the foot of the cross….. I’m guilty, as charged, for my part in His crucifixion…..Traditionally, Ash Wednesday commemorates the 40 days, not including Sunday’s, that Jesus spent in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13)…..Moderns tend to shy from Church Traditions…..St. Paul begs to differ with moderns (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15) telling his throng to adhere (2 Tim. 3:14-15) to what they were orally (Luke 10:16, Acts 2:42, Rom. 10:17, 1 Cor. 15:3, 11, 2 Tim. 2:2, 1 Pet. 1:25) taught…..For these reasons, Church Patriarch interpretations of the Bible are worth a peek…..It strikes me that interpreting the meaning of the US Constitution is similar.  Should it be viewed in the light of the writers authored “Federalist Papers” as to what it means or allowed to “live and breath” to please moderns?……2 Cor. 5:20-6:10.  Appears to tell the Christian that his/her reconciliation with God (vv. 20-21) should force actions (6:1-10) to further His truths…..One thing, I’ve learned in reading many classic books.  For a period of time, I felt as though I was getting smarter and smarter.  Back a few years ago, I passed a sort of knowledge threshold and now realize that I know next to nothing.  And so, to pacify this feeling, I continue to read and turn more pages?!…..Matt.6:1-21.  Self-glorification for God’s cause is severely rebuked (vv. 1-8, 16-19).  The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9-15) has an element of  QUID PRO QUO (vv. 12, 14-15) in it on the subject of sin forgiveness.  A Christians’ sins are both forgiven overall (Eph. 1:7) via faith in Christ (Rom. 4:5-8) and each sin is individually (Prov. 28:13, 1 Jn. 1:9) forgiven.  The Lord’s Prayer “this for that” forgiveness is related to the individual sins…..”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the the epoch on incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of the noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree for comparison only (Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two cities”)…..Such is our time…..Psalm 51.  Seems to be David’s “how-to” get back with God and self after screwing up.  The steps are admitting guilt (vv. 1-6), undergoing spiritual cleansing (vv. 7-10, cp. Jn. 13:4-10, Eph. 5:26), and a renewed spirit (vv. 11-12) enables service (v. 13), and fellowship with God via worship (vv. 14-17)……This Psalm seems to capture the perfectly purple mood for me, which is Lent…..What do you think of this “stream of consciousness” blog?

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