First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @


February 2018

Love God…Love Others…in this order!


Today’s Passages:  Leviticus 21-22, Psalm 22, Mark 12 (All 1 Link)

Today’s passages from Leviticus could be cause for some to say that God is a discriminatory God…discriminating against those priests who are handicapped with regard to offering sacrifices to God.  Not so…God had specific requirements in that no imperfect animals would be used for sacrifice and, similarly, there was a requirement for priests.  Not as an insult…rather, because God was perfect, the one who is to serve was to be closely matched.  Priests were held to a higher standard than all others.  It is important to note that those priests with “blemishes” were indeed cared for, protected and supported with food from the sacrifices.  They were not abandoned and, indeed, provided other necessary services within the Tabernacle. The overall duties of the priests were God-decreed and were focused on helping the people draw near to God and worship him alone. The priest was not a position of power – they were not allowed money or land so as not to distract them from their God-ordained purpose.

And with this detailed description of the holiness required of those who serve God for the people of God, we move to Psalm 22.  It is a prayer of lament – one that provides us with a link between OT and NT and the passion of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.  The Gospel writers cite Psalm 22 and allude to it in their crucifixion accounts.  However, Psalm 22 carries more, not simply because it appears in the NT – it is important because the NT writers used it for its deep and intense expression of suffering and…faith.

So we come to Mark 12…after talking about the high standards of the priests and the depth of faith seen in Psalm 22, there is the reality of the number of rules and regulations that Jews of the day tried to live by – 613 to be exact.  For a perspective on this, just think about how many rules and regulations you must try to live by when you get behind the wheel of a car – If you think the number is small, just take a glance at the Illinois Rules of the Road.  And yet, Jesus summarizes all of God’s laws in response to that challenging question…love God and love your neighbor as yourself – in this order.  Let this provide a focus for your day…every day.  And when you find yourself in a tough situation regarding what to do or how to respond, ask yourself which path provides the best love for God and love for others.

We are indeed blemished people one and all with each of us held to a high standard by the God who loves us…who made himself real to us in Jesus so that we could not only know his love…but also his grace and forgiveness.  Because, on our own we will not succeed so, that high standard? Love God and love others!









Sunday Reflection: God as Counselor

1691333_origHow are you doing on your journey through the Bible?  What new insights have you found?  How is God’s word stretching you?  Keep going!  What you are doing will be life changing!

Today’s reflection subject, “God as Counselor” reminds me of a passage read during Advent, so, even though we are in the season of Lent…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NRSV)  These words were captured by the prophet Isaiah in a time of great darkness…a time when God promised to send a light that would shine on all his people living in the shadow of death.  Isaiah brought to the people God’s message of hope to come in Jesus.  And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor – one description of Jesus’ character.  It’s pretty easy to understand ‘wonderful’ as exceptional, phenomenal, amazing.  Then there is ‘counselor’ – one who is authoritative in a particular area…one who is to be listened to. Isaiah writes in a way that indicates the people will gladly listen to this child to come as the authoritative One.  By now though you have found out that the people often wander from God’s counsel and we still wander today.

Maybe you’ve noticed that when someone is sick, they seek counseling from…..a doctor.  There are marriage counselors, family counselors, guidance counselors, career counselors, rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors…  While each of these counselors can, in their own way, help individuals, the apostle Paul provides for us an understanding of what can be a reality for each of us if we would only listen to the real One who is authoritative and cares for us unlike any human is capable…from Romans 11:33-12:2

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.  I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We live in a dark work not unlike that of 1st century…we will not, by ourselves, be able to stop anger and hatred, wars, murder, etc. Sovereignty is your key to peace… Far too many see the problems of the world and wring their hands. Others, see the problems of the world and bend their knees. You cannot run or control the world, but, you can entrust it to the One who is Sovereign…your Wonderful Counselor…we just need to listen…

This Coming Week’s Readings:

2/19/18 Leviticus 21-22 Psalm 22 Mark 12 Dale
2/20/18 Leviticus 23-25 Proverbs 22 Mark 13 Craig H.
2/21/18 Leviticus 26-27 Psalm 23 Mark 14 Craig R.
2/22/18 Numbers 1-3 Proverbs 23 Mark 15 Karl
2/23/18 Numbers 4-6 Psalm 24 Mark 16 Matt
2/24/18 Numbers 7-9 Proverbs 24 Luke 1 Bo

Set Apart

Leviticus 18-20
Proverbs 21
Mark 11

My last blog post was the beginning of Leviticus and I shared a video that explained Leviticus well. Click here if you want watch it again. For this week’s blog I included another video. Enjoy!

Leviticus 18 is all about sex—better yet, it’s all about how to not have sex. I highly encourage you to read through it (even if it’s awkward!) and think about why God has these rules and how they are meant to protect us.

Leviticus 19 gives more rules, some reminiscent of the Ten Commandments and some which protect the ones that society likes to push aside (Leviticus 19:14, 20, 29, 32-33). Leviticus 20 gives punishments for sin. We may be horror stricken that the punishments for most of the sins are death, but should we be surprised? Paul reminds us in the New Testament that the wage of sin is death. These consequences aren’t new, what is new (for us as Christians) is that Jesus came so that we may have life!

Proverbs 21 gives more instructions for life—how to live well and get true rewards. Again, we are told to care for the poor (Proverbs 21:13). I also enjoy the passages about virtues such as patience (Proverbs 21:5) and generosity (Proverbs 21:26).

Finally, Mark 11 shows us Palm Sunday where Jesus is greeted as King. Isn’t it wild to think he would be crucified in less than a week’s time from that moment? We then see Jesus upset because the house of prayer has become a market place. If people wanted to sacrifice to be right with God they could only buy animals or other offerings from this market place—which was taking advantage of that situation and charging more than they should have. That’s why Jesus was flipping tables.

In closing, friends, I want to ask you to read these passages and then ask yourself this:  How does God want me to live my life? What does it mean for me to be Holy and set apart?

Many Blessings,


Today’s Readings:  Leviticus 16-17; Psalm 21; Mark 10 (All 1 Link)

I just received a phone call from Bo – now today is Bo’s day off and he was headed to the Auto Show in Chicago and wanted to know when his next blog post was due.  Sad to say, I had to be the bearer of bad news and tell him today – but, not to worry, I’ll cover for him.  Then I read the passages for today and found that today’s verses from Leviticus offer up a biblical perspective of a word often used…that of the Scapegoat.  This word has a secular definition of, a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.”  

Lev 16 builds on the other preceding chapters on sacrifices only this chapter and is pivotal to the whole book.  It looks back on the teaching on sacrifices and relationship to uncleanness but it also looks forward to the desire for the entire nation…that of holiness.  While the Day of Atonement is detailed and involves a sin offering and a public fast, there is another part that comes from our text.  The Day of Atonement is commonly known today as Yom Kippur (beginning the evening of Sept 18 and ending the evening of Sept 19)  – probably the most also known as Yom Kippur, was the most solemn holy day of all the Israelite feasts and festivals.  As you read your text you will find that the special ritual involves the sins of the people being symbolically laden on the head of a goat which is then being driven into the wilderness in order to carry the evil far away.  The belief is that the live goat removes the danger of the evil from the people in the camp.

In Mark 10 we find several topics but what I think ties them together and connects us to our OT reading is verse 45, “for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many“.  In the NT the ritual of the Day of Atonement is taken as an imperfect model of the sacrifice of Jesus – you can see this in Hebrews 9 and 10 but it is made more clear in Mark 10:45.

As I indicated earlier, today, we see the idea of a scapegoat as a human victim who is identified as a easy target on which to lay the accumulated hatred of a community – especially when crime is involved.  Hatred and violence will continue – we’ve seen it just this week once again in Florida – and while I find no joy or comfort in what happened, I can rest a little easier knowing that trust in a God who is sovereign will provide a foundation on which to place my ultimate hope.  As much as I want to drive evil into the wilderness, I realize that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that victory is achieved.

I leave you with this prayer from Erasmus (c. 1466-1536):  “O Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We pray you allow us never to stray from you, who are the Way, or distrust you, who are the Truth, nor to rest in any one other thing than you, who are the life.  Teach us, by your Holy Spirit, what to believe, what to do, and how to take our rest.”  Amen.

Are You Listening?


Leviticus 13-15

Proverbs 20

Mark 9

Leviticus 13-15

In these 3 chapters from Leviticus we read about God’s instructions for dealing with leprosy among other things. Leprosy is a bacterial infection of the skin that is highly contagious. These instructions are meant to rid the person of the disease, as well as preventing others from obtaining the bacterium.

Proverbs 20

In this chapter, we learn more about Godly living. Much of what is here seems to a contrasting description between an honest lifestyle and a dishonest lifestyle. One brings us closer to God, and one creates a chasm between us and God.

Mark 9

A lot happens in this chapter from Mark. We read about the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Elijah and Moses to Jesus, who is in the company of Peter, James, and John. Jesus serves an eviction notice to a demon who has resided in a boy since birth. At first, the disciples attempted to rid the boy of the demon, but were unsuccessful. Jesus is seemingly frustrated with the unfaith of the disciples, then exorcises the demon himself. Jesus foretells his own death. He teaches His disciples about who is the greatest. The least will be the greatest. Later, the disciples tell Jesus of their interaction with a person exorcising demons in the name of Jesus, to which Jesus replies that anyone who is acting in the name of Him welcomes Him, and will be rewarded. Finally, Jesus teaches about the pitfalls of causing another person to commit sin. It would be better to have a heavy weight tied to your neck and you be thrown into the sea than to have you lead someone into sin.


We have a God who loves us and cares for us, like a parent looks out for and cares for their own children. In the OT readings, we read about expectations that God established for the betterment of His people. He was instructing His people about how to live a safe and healthy life. Like a parent who is hoping to prevent cold or flu from developing in a child, God is looking out for his children to prevent an ailment that was much more common in Biblical times. In Mark, Jesus teaches his disciples and others who are following him about who God is. God, though omnipotent, values humbleness and the vulnerability of human nature more than “human” greatness. As we say every Sunday when it is time to take the offering, it is more blessed to give than to receive. Or, said another way, it is better to serve than to be served. And Jesus was/is the epitome of this way of life. All-powerful God Almighty came to this Earth as a vulnerable, completely dependent baby, who grew into an adult who did not abuse his power, and was the ultimate service provider. And we, as Christians, are called to live the same life.

So, in closing, I pray that we continue to humble ourselves before our God and in the presence of those who we come into contact with daily. I also pray that, when so called, we serve others to the best of our ability. And finally, as we learned from our sermon series on Jonah, I pray that we listen for God and His instructions for us, rather than try to hide from them. God knows best what we need and how we can use our talents to the best of our ability. We simply need to be still and hear what He has to say to us. Are you listening?

Pride of The Pharisees


Leviticus 11-12

Psalms 20

Mark 8

Leviticus 11-12 gives laws about animals for food, and birth purifications.

Psalms 20 A song about YHWH answering our prayers, “Save O LORD, may our King do for us when we call.”

Mark 7   The Pharisees had just accused Jesus of not following the traditions of the elders, which are in the Talmud, written by the Pharisees expanding and defining the Laws of Moses.  Jesus counters with their sins of overriding the Law of Moses to their monetary advantage.

Chapter 8 Starts with the crowd that is now gathered, nearly 4000,  following Jesus for three days, without food, hearing His teaching and seeing His mighty works.  Jesus has compassion and feeds them with 7 loaves of bread and a few sardines.  As they finish and send the crowd away, He takes the disciples to Migdal and Dalmutha, where they are again confronted by the Pharisees in that area.  They request a sign, not unlike Weber’s song “walk across my swimming pool, prove to me that you’re no fool.”  every time they ask for a sign it’s to prove they are in control and that this Jesus is subject to them.  They are not sincere.

As Jesus and the boys leave He tells them to beware of the leaven, or pride, of the Pharisees. Of course the carnal minded, simple disciples don’t understand at all what He is referring to.  Their minds being on the physical realm.   A short time later a blind man is brought to Jesus who then spits on his eyes and lays hands on him and he is healed. What does the spit have to do with healing. In the Talmud, tractate Shabbat 108b, written by the elders, it is absolutely forbidden to put saliva on the eyes on the Sabbath.  So tedious is the interpretation of Moses Law, by the Pharisees, that Jesus is often deliberately violating it to prove it man made, and useless in God’s Kingdom.

Now Jesus asks Peter who he thinks Jesus is and is surprised he gets it right only to have to rebuke him minutes later as Peter proves he has little spiritual understanding.  Jesus then tells them what true discipleship will entail. Taking your own cross and be willing to die on it.  For this world is merely a stepping stone to Heaven.  “For what does it profit a man to gain this world, and lose his soul. For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him, …”

The message to us is the same, do you  desire to be true to YHWH and His word, and not so much caught up in the traditions of man. It’s more important to be true and faithful to our Savior than to let this world’s desires overwhelm us.



Consecrations, Priests, & Profanity

Leviticus 8-10     Proverbs 19     Mark 7

Review: To start, please review Karissa’s most excellent video find regarding Leviticus, posted a few days ago…Aaron and his sons are consecrated for the priesthood (8:1-12)…The ordination of Aaron & co. is done over a week (8:13-36)…Once approved, priests perform their ministry by making distinct offerings (9:1-24): burnt, sin, peace, grain, and wave…The profane fire to burn incense of Nadab and Abihu was created by hot coals from outside the confines of the tabernacle (10:1-5)…Further instructions (10:6-20).

Analysis:  Moses is Israel’s mediator (8:9, 13, 17, 21, 29; 9:10) to God…These events are a fulfillment of a previous ordination (Ex. 29:1-37).  It is clear that priests were to separate themselves from the rest of Israel to perform their duties of offering sacrifices, render purifications, and pronounce blessings (cp. Num. 6:22-27)…Purity and it’s related cleanliness are highly valued (8:6) by God and therefore Israel.  These attributes aren’t equally valued by all of the peoples of the earth, even at the present hour…An obvious “make ready” parallel exists between the week time (Read: 6 days of labor, 1 day of Sabbath rest) for priest preparation and creation preparation (Gen. 1:1-2:3)…The LORD exhibits a fiery approval of the sacrificial proceedings (9:23-24)…An exacting prescription for dealings with the LORD is necessary for Israel.  Anyway simply will not do as the deaths of Nadab and Abihu attest (10:1-5)…Nadab and Abihu’s wrong was in the performance of a right ritual, done the wrong way – similar to an act of religion that looks good in the eyes of people, but not God’s (cp. Col. 2:20-23)…Certainly one reason for a study of the OT is to learn something of their examples (1 Cor. 10:1-15), and not repeat them.

The Goodness of God, Forgiveness, Faith and More…

Leviticus 6-7, Psalm 19, Mark 6

These chapters in Leviticus are concerned with sin offerings and many types of offerings that were part of the worship life of Israel.

What most interests me here is the beginning of Chapter 6, which  begins with a focus on one’s neighbor.  In Leviticus we find the commandment to love your neighbor.  When that doesn’t happen there is teaching on making restitution and finding forgiveness.  We can think about what we should do to make amends (restitution) when we fall short of what God wants in our relationships.  Here we see that God wants to restore relationships through a path of restitution and forgiveness.

In Psalm 19 we are reminded of the greatness, glory, and goodness of God.  Yesterday, my wife, Leslie couldn’t contain her joy when she looked at out southwest window and saw the beautiful sunset.  She called me over to see and took a picture to remember and treasure the view God provided at the end of the day.  A week ago, it was a cold, clear night and I stood in my driveway and took in the wonder of the full moon and all of the stars I could so easily see and Orion’s Belt right above our house.  Without words the heavens, the sun, the moon,  the stars and today’s bright blue skies speak of the wonder of God who created all things and called them good.

And God doesn’t stop with the creation in blessing us. The Lord gives us his law, statues, precepts, commands, decrees; that is God gives us the scriptures and shares with us his will and way and goodness that we might have life.  And when we sin and fall short God forgives because the Lord is our Rock and our Redeemer.

In Mark 6 we see a lack of faith in Jesus’ hometown; so much so, that Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.”  We see a lack of faith and evil on the part of King Herod who has John the Baptist beheaded.

Then we find Jesus sending out the disciples preach and teach, cast out demons, and heal.  They return after making a faithful impact.  Jesus feeds the 5,000, inspite of the Disciples wanting to send the people away.  Jesus walks on the water and expands the Disciples understanding of his person, ministry, and purpose.

Life in this world goes on today.  We can see the goodness and glory of God when we look for it.  We find people of faith serving Christ Jesus and can see what the Lord is doing in our lives, church, and world.  And we also find unspeakable evil and daily challenges to our life and faith just as the Disciples discovered in following the Lord Jesus.  I encourage you to look at what God is doing this day.


Reflection: God as Lord of All

One of the questions we ask all Deacons, Elders and Ministers of Word and Sacrament in their ordination is this:   Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? (PCUSA Book of Order) I think it is a question that is worthy for all who claim to follow Jesus – who call themselves Christians.  So this Sunday…if you need to catch up on your reading, that’s ok…if not, I urge you to think about this question – it is at the heart of Christian faith.

This coming week’s readings:

2/12/18 Leviticus 6-7 Psalm 19 Mark 6 Craig H.
2/13/18 Leviticus 8-10 Proverbs 19 Mark 7 Craig R.
2/14/18 Leviticus 11-12 Psalm 20 Mark 8 Karl
2/15/18 Leviticus 13-15 Proverbs 20 Mark 9 Matt
2/16/18 Leviticus 16-17 Psalm 21 Mark 10 Bo
2/17/18 Leviticus 18-20 Proverbs 21 Mark 11 Karissa

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