First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @


February 2019

Watch! Pray! Pray! Awake!

Mark 13:32-37

Review:  This parable speaks to what is ahead.  No one knows the time or make-up of future events.  Not angels.  Not the Son.  Only the Father.  To illustrate this point, a story is given of an estate owner who leaves to a far country for an extended period of time.  He entrusts his servants to care for his estate and secure it.  The time of day of the master’s return is unknown.  All are warned to stay awake, to stay alert, to watch for his return.

Analysis:  As typical of Mark, this parable is the “Reader’s Digest” version of Matthew’s account (Matt. 24:36-51).  There, the days of Noah are compared to the coming of the Son of Man.  No one knew when the rain would begin.  But, begin, it did.  Similarly, no one knows when the Son of Man will return.  But, return, He will.

This is a call to faithful living, not seeking “signs” to be awakened so as not to be caught “off guard.”  We are to have a sense of anticipation for Christ’s appearing.  In the final verse (v. 37), we are reminded what was true for the generation living following Jesus’ ascension has been true for every succeeding generation, including our own.

JS Bach (BWV 70) explained this bit of scripture in German as…Watch!  Pray!  Pray!  Awake!  Be ready all the time until the LORD of glory brings this world to an end.  If this bit of music doesn’t enliven you, nothing will.  Watch!

Be Observant

Luke 21:29-33 (NIV)

“Look at the fig tree,” Jesus said. The coming of spring is announced by the greening of the trees.  Then, when the fig tree begins to show its sweet fruit it is a sign of the summer.  Winter’s barrenness is over and done.  Signs of life are visible to all.  A new season has come. In a similar way, one can anticipate the coming of the kingdom when its signs are seen.

What comes before this parable and after it, in Luke 21, is essential to understanding its meaning.  Part of what Jesus describes before this parable (see Luke 21:5-36) has to do with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple some 40 years after he spoke these words, in 70 A.D.  Another part of Jesus’ teaching, in verses 5-28, has to do with the end of history, the final judgement, and his second coming.

The destruction of Jerusalem is related to the end in that it is a type or a mirror of what is to come, in part, at the end when Jesus returns.  It is clear that God is speaking through Jesus’ prophecy.  Jesus is not only the Messiah but also a prophet.  The end of history will come and Jesus will return.

The Parable of the Fig Tree is about being observant, vigilant, and eager for Jesus to return and the Kingdom to come in all its fullness.  While no one can know the time or day nevertheless there will be kingdom signs.  Therefore, we wait, watch, and serve by following the Lord Jesus until he returns or calls us home into his Kingdom of light, life, and love.  Rest assured Jesus will come again and make all things right.

With the Disciples in every age we too can pray, “Come Lord Jesus, Come.”


Dress Appropriately

I love today’s parable. It is a great reminder of God’s grace and how blessed we are to be God’s chosen.

Matthew 22:1-14
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

According to my ESV Study Bible the wedding feast is a countrywide celebration that would have lasted for several days. The “feast” is meant to represent fellowship with God and entering His kingdom.

The people the king invites reject the invitation, much like the Pharisees are rejecting Jesus. This is an extreme insult to the king as is the rejection of Jesus’ invitation an insult to God from His chosen people. When God begins to invite the others from the street this is a representation of the the Gospel being spread and salvation going to the Gentiles (most likely, the people we are descended from!).

There was something I was confused about: the man who was there with no wedding garment. First we must realize that everyone was invited, but proper wedding attire was still expected. My study bible offers a few theories on why this man wasn’t dressed:

  1. There is evidence that kings would provide proper attire for the guests and this man rejected those garments, which is insulting to the host. This would be Jesus offering to dress us in righteousness, but we reject that gift.
  2. The wedding garment may refer to a clean garment which is symbolic righteous works, or bearing good fruit. Receiving the gift of God and doing something with that gift rather than keeping it to yourself (see the talents parable for more).

Either way, the guest is lacking something essential to be in fellowship with the king.

For those of us who have been called and chosen, I think this parable is a great reminder to give thanks for the parable ends with “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This means the Gospel is spread to everyone, but not everyone will receive that call and enter the kingdom of God.

Today I give thanks to God for I am chosen. I pray you do the same.

Many Blessings,

Living commercials…

Jesus is in the temple and begins this parable…“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)

Matthew’s Jesus has just entered Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna!!  Right out of the box, Jesus cleanses the temple, curses the fig tree, has his authority questioned and then provides today’s short but powerful parable.  The fundamental question of the parable is about who does the will of the Father.

It is a very human story about a man who owns a vineyard and his 2 sons.  The man needs work done in the vineyard and goes to the first son who at first refuses and then changes his mind and goes.  The second son politely, using ‘sir’, agrees to the request and then goes away doing nothing.  In this parable, who does the will of the Father?  This is the question Jesus asks to the chief priests and the elders of the people.

Truth be told, both sons leave a little bit to be desired.  Yes, the first son, representing tax collectors and sinners is a bit better than the second son who Jesus uses to represent the Scribes and Pharisees…but, neither are perfect.  Ideally, the one who brings real joy to the Father is the one who willingly hears and gladly obeys.

Devotional Thought:  This past Sunday many Americans sat around watching the Super Bowl for the half-time commercials.  Maybe you had your favorite.  Have you ever considered yourself to be a commercial for Christianity and the Church?  Every day…think about it, every day, the way we live our lives either attracts or turns away people to Christianity.  Every person who is either a member or has some functional role in the Church is a living advertisement…a living commercial for Christianity and the Church.  This is awe-inspiring and, quite frankly, very intimidating when placed in the context of doing the will of the Father and it led me to think about the song by Sidewalk Prophets…”Live Like That” containing the following lyrics:

Sometimes I think

What will people say of me

When I’m only just a memory

When I’m home where my soul belongs.

Was I love

When no one else would show up

Was I Jesus to the least of those

Was my worship more than just a song

I want to live like that…

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard


Luke 20:1-16

In this parable, a landowner is hiring people to work his land. He hires people early in the morning with the promise of paying them a fair wage. He hired more workers at noon, at 3:00, and again at 5:00. From what we can gather at then end of the story, closing time is 6:00. When the closing bell rings, the landowner starts paying out wages for the day. The first to get paid are the last people that were hired. They are paid the same wage that was promised to all of the workers hired before them. Needless to say, some grumbling begins. The workers who were hired first want to get paid more, obviously, since they worked longer. But the landowner makes a great point…you agreed to this salary, and so did the last people hired. You can’t complain about what you agreed to be paid.

I was just reading an article published in the Huffington Post about this parable that got me thinking a bit more about this parable. I’ve never really thought about this part before, but what of the people hired later in the day? The fact that they couldn’t find work until almost the end of the work day would lead one to believe that they weren’t the most skilled workers. They couldn’t find work anywhere else. They may have been “weak, infirmed, disabled…maybe elderly…possibly criminals or anyone with a bad reputation.” They would have been the unwanted. But, as Jesus closes in his explanation of the parable, the last will be first, and the first will be last.

These words still apply amazingly even in 2019. As I’ve been reflecting so much on all that has been going on politically/socially in our country as of late, I keep coming back to the thought of “what would Jesus say or do” if He were physically walking around America today. People tend to make stabs at people’s character and actions while hiding behind their Christianity. When I think about it, though, Jesus didn’t spend his time hanging out with the righteous people of the day, giving them props for how great of a job they were doing at being righteous. He spent almost all of his time with those who were considered to be outcasts, downtrodden, the last in line. And what was his regular message to them? They will receive the same reward in heaven as those who have been religiously following The Law.

And the same will be true for anyone who comes to Him, no matter how late in the game they get there. And I’m pretty sure that it isn’t up to any single one of us to place judgment on people who seem so far from being “righteous” or “saved.” Instead, it is on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Who is our neighbor? Anyone we come across in need. I know I keep coming back to this hymn over and over again, but its message is something that I think is important to keep striving to achieve. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Not by how many times we attend Sunday worship, or how often we pray, or any of that. And I’m not sure how we can say we are a nation of Christians while turning our backs on everyone that we see as not living “in a Christian way,” or, if you ask me even worse, turning our backs on people wanting to come here to live the American Dream just like all of our ancestors did, however long ago that was for any of you reading this today.

Pharisees and the Publican…

Luke 18. 9-14
The Pharisee and the tax collector. Luke tell us that Jesus told this parable to those people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt.

In the book to the Romans chapter 10 vs. 3, Paul confirms that Israel missed the righteousness of God because they pursued it through works rather than by faith, “for not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” “They sought to establish their own, “ pretty much says it about as clearly as can be said. We all know people who declare they have never knowingly done anything to hurt another person, as though that were true, or that it were the establishment of righteousness for all to attain to. In my understanding Jehovah has already established the standard for righteousness, no man gets to re-establish what the standard is. This is the very thing the Pharisees did. They rewrote the rules defining the Law so that it was achievable by themselves, therefore establishing their own righteousness.

Jesus said “Two men up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee,” as a note to understand the dedication of the Pharisees, they each had the entire Torah memorized, that’s the first five books of the Bible, which is no small feat, and then dedicated themselves to a life of keeping the Law, “ and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘ Elohim, I thank You that I am not like other men: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this Tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’” Now all of these things are good deeds and surely in tune with righteousness, and we can be sure this Pharisee followed all the sacrifices, and washings, and tithing as required by the Law. But as Paul reveals in Hebrews chapter 10.4 “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Isaiah 64.6 “ And all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags,” so all good deeds done by mankind with out the cleansing blood of Jesus is tainted by sin, and therefore unrighteous.

Continuing, “ But the tax collector, standing some distance away,” we need to understand here that there were few Israelites as hated as tax collectors. They were despised because they were Israelites who were turncoats, they were working for the Romans, collecting Roman taxes from their own people, and on top of that they were cheating their own people, with the blessing of Rome. They were snitches, narcs, stool pigeons, traitors, anything you can think of to describe a so-called brother who betrays you. So yes, he stood afar off, as the crowd could well have moved away from him. “ He was unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven,” also he was not an American, who readily bow their heads as a standard prayer position, but the standard Hebrew prayer position is to stand with head facing the sky and arms stretched upward calling on the Name of God. This man now with head bowed, “was beating his breast, saying, ‘Elohim, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will one humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A major point here in the difference between the two men is the Pharisee was looking for justice, according to his standard, while the tax man was looking for mercy. If we want absolute perfect, retributive justice, we are asking for death and hell for eternity, for there are none righteous, no not one. If we want mercy it will go much better for us, for we have a merciful and loving Master who will forgive our sins by His grace, sustain us through this life by His grace, and then take us to heaven to dwell with Him for eternity by His grace. We don’t deserve forgiveness but it is offered to us through the finished work of Christ. Amen


The Unjust Judge

Luke 18:1-8

Review:  This parable is regarding a corruptible judge who is bothered continually by a widow demanding justice.  After a time, the judge tires of the widows grumblings and grants her justice by avenging her adversary.  The LORD speaks saying He responds to His quickly who copies the widows behavior towards Him.  Finally (v. 8), a comment is made to the absence of faith the Son of Man would find on the earth.

Analysis:  This parable is in a similar vein to what I’ve previously blogged on, that of the persistent friend (Luke 11:5-8).  It is clear that our LORD desires and responds to our requests by way of prayer.  We need to communicate with the LORD through our prayers.

Regarding the last verse (v.8) on the level of faith Jesus would find, a natural reading strongly implies that He found none.  This is a verse that gives me fits; there are others (Matt. 7:21-23, 15:21-28, Mark 9:14-24, John 5, Rom. 13:1-7, Heb. 6:1-12).

Of course, commentaries exist that brush aside what this verse literally says as a linguistic misunderstanding.  Typically, these are compiled by fundamentalists who take the Bible literally, except when it doesn’t fit their theology (Eucharist, cp. Matt. 26:26-29).  Ironic, isn’t it?

For myself, as someone who tries to maintain an objective faith, pretending these above verses don’t exist is not an option.  They are a struggle.  Fortunately, situations like these comprise certainly less than 2% of our Bible.  Further, I accept as fact that the Bible is not a “perfect” book having been compiled by inspired, fallible human beings like ourselves.

Divine inspiration is a fairly common commodity.  It is the stuff that has driven people to preach, to write hymns, to write, to evangelize, to service all forms of missions, and so on for thousands of years.  Nothing happens for no cause.  Effects are driven by causes.  All persons are at God’s beck and call, whether we’re aware of it or not.

One would suspect that some individual faith existed on earth at the time and since the life of Christ, otherwise the Christian movement would not have gone anywhere or lasted for as long as it has.

What am I missing?


Made to Serve

Luke 17:7-10 (NIV)

This parable is placed at the end of the first ten verses of Luke 17 and it’s placement there is significant to understanding its meaning.  Luke 17:1-10 is a passage on False Teaching, Forgiveness, Faith, and Service. One commentator (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series) writes, “a warning about sin and false teaching serves as a contrast to more positive exhortations about showing forgiveness, having faith, and serving without demanding a reward.”

This passage is based upon an awareness of the importance of community in the Christian life.  Following Jesus is not a private experience but one that is lived out with others.  Thus correct teaching, sin, forgiveness, and serving well are important.

The parable of the master and servant comes at the end of this section in Luke following the teaching on forgiveness and faith. The teaching is about following Jesus and being a disciple.  Out of our faith, there should be service and willing and joyful service at that.  See the contrast between a willing attitude to serving and the conceited attitude of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14.   Clearly the Pharisees expects a reward.

This parable uses the imagery of master and slave (doulos).  Slave is sometimes translated servant throughout the New Testament.  It was a word Paul chose to describe himself, a slave of Christ Jesus.  Obviously Jesus is the master and that will never change.  We are his servants, slaves, and there is much work to be done in serving others and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

We know, and sometimes need to remind ourselves, that we are called to be humble servants.  God is not obligated to us as if we were an equal.  Instead we are obligated to the Lord because he is our Creator and Redeemer.  From time to time, we should ask and pray, “Can I be a willing and eager servant of the Lord Jesus, today?  Lord, show me how to serve this day.”


Do Something

Today’s Parable is The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

Because this is a parable I won’t get into theology on Heaven and Hell as the rich man is sent to Hades and tormented while the the poor man Lazarus is given a comfortable afterlife in fellowship with Abraham (the father of the Jewish people).

This story of the rich man and poor man parallels quite a bit the lessons of the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings:

The basic thought of the Torah is that Yahweh is the protector and defender of the poor (Exodus 22:25; 23:3; Leviticus 19:10; 23:22).
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
Earthly rewards vs. Heavenly rewards (Matthew 6:1-21).

The Bible is clear, over and over again, that we are to care for those who need help. We are to look out for the widows, the orphans, and the outcasts. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.

And if we do nothing? That inaction is an action and it displeases God.

Listen to the lyrics of this song Do Something by Matthew West.

That’s about it, folks.  As Micah 6:8 says, ” Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.”


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