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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Author

Dale Ambler

Foundations…

Today’s Passages (all 1 link):  Isaiah 28:16 and John 1:1-18

Well folks, today is my last blog post for First Pres-Joliet.  The past several years of this blog have been a real joy both in writing and seeing the growth of others along the way.

Today’s topic may simply be coincidental, but, I think it provides the foundation (no pun intended) for a final blog post.  In today’s volatile culture, pretty much anything you say is interpreted by the biases and filters of others.  To some extent, even blogging about the church etc, can bring the same responses.  So, while there may be a small amount of angst with the idea of retirement on June 1 simply because it is something new and “never done before”, I am confident that this unknown rests on my one sure conviction…my foundation in Jesus.

As I watch so much anger and hatred towards others, I think about the words of Isaiah: a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: “One who trusts will not panic.”  I often wonder what might happen if we humans were not so demanding of our own way or if we truly tried to live out what it means to love our neighbor – those we like and those we don’t.  What might happen if there is a possibility that there may be another opinion other than our own?  And then, the words of John’s gospel ring out, “He (Jesus) came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”  

Devotional Thought:  Claiming to be a Christian – a follower of Jesus – requires more than lip service.  Claiming to be a disciple of Jesus means that we are to stand for that which is right not by beating people over the heads through our words or, worse, through violence.  For example, this past weekend the PurdueCrew gathered for the Indy 500 – 34 races for this group of individuals with a wide variety of opinions.  What started as roommates at Purdue in 1977 for some of us has blossomed into a lifelong friendship of 16 people who gather together as often as 3 times every year.  There are different religious beliefs – some of us are Presbyterians, some Methodists, Roman Catholic and Lutheran…we have opposing political opinions and differing thoughts on tough issues like abortion and LBGTQ – just to name a few.  Why even this last weekend there was a difference of opinion on how to play Euchre and what kind of beer or pizza we liked!!  But…as we all left to return to our homes we were not filled with what divided us but the foundation of our lifelong friendships – all of us knowing that if any one of us were in need, we would respond.

Friends, claiming to be a disciple of Jesus means living out his example to the best of our individual abilities even when the going gets tough or when we are divided because of differing opinions.  Why? Because we are supposed to trust in our one sure foundation and not panic.  That one sure foundation is Jesus!

It has been a privilege to write for each of you…more importantly, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ for his Church gathered here on earth.  I pray God’s blessings on each of you…that you will be blessed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit today and always!!  Amen.

 

 

Who’s in Charge?

The Head of the Church:    Ephesians 4:1-16

How many times in life have you asked the question, “Who’s in charge?”  In virtually every social structure we know today, there is a hierarchy of order.  Trying to deny it makes for a difficult time.  Arguing about this hierarchy or protesting about it really just leads to individual frustration.  Families have parents, gangs have a leader, schoolrooms have a teacher, a school has a principal and schools have a superintendent who, in turn has a Board of Education.  Sports teams have coaches or managers with a management structure above them.  Corporations have CEO’s and CEO’s are accountable to a Board of Directors who, in turn, are accountable to the stockholders.  Governments have Presidents, Governors, Mayors, etc.  I think you get the point.  Look around and ask the question, “Who’s in charge?” and someone is sure to answer.

The Church is no exception to this hierarchy of order.  The Presbyterian Church (USA) has it’s own structure as well.  At the local church level there are pastors who “report” to the session.  The local church is part of a Presbytery or grouping of churches by geography.  Presbyteries belong to Synods and all the Synods are part of the General Assembly.  However…through all the structuring comes an important reality that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  Like all social structures there are things that cause decay and begin eroding the structure itself.  Things like power, greed, selfishness, jealousy and so many others.

Our passage from Ephesians tells us clearly that, when it comes to the Church, Jesus is in charge.  One of the things that makes me cringe is when I hear people talk about “my church”.  Now I know pretty much what they mean and it is good intentioned.  But, “my church” can begin the slippery slope of decay.  Paul takes this head on by telling us to have a proper perspective on our individual and collective place within the body of Christ…the Church.  Each one of us has a role to live out in Jesus’ Church…with one and only one outcome…that when we are all doing our part the Church of Jesus Christ grows and builds up in love.

Hallelujah!

The King of Kings & Lord of Lords:  Revelation 19:6-16

In Chapter 19 we are greeted with the growing climax of the biblical message and of all human history…Jesus first came as the Lamb of God and was the sacrifice for the sin of the world and now, the promised return is at hand.  Heaven opens and we see, returning on a white horse, a symbol of victory, the Conquering King returning with the battle lines drawn.

The servants of God Almighty rejoice…Hallelujah!  The wedding of Christ and his bride, the Church, is at hand.  Hallelujah!  Some may be disappointed with the war-like imagery here and throughout Revelation.  Many see the Prince of Peace not one of war.  And yet, friends, never forget there is an ongoing battle between good and evil…between God and evil, that continues every day. We know the victory was won through the cross and resurrection but what is ultimately at stake is the final triumph over evil through Jesus!  Hallelujah!!

So, like any great story or musical score, we see a building crescendo to the climax in today’s passage – we see it in the names of the Victor: “Faithful and True…The Word of God…King of kings and Lord of lords”…Hallelujah!!  In the words of George Frideric Handel from his great work, “Messiah”, are these words from the “Halllujah Chorus”:

The kingdom of this world is become
the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever
and He shall reign for ever and ever
and He shall reign for ever and ever
and He shall reign for ever and ever

King of kings,
for ever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
and Lord of lords,
for ever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Devotional Thought:  This chapter from Revelation always takes me back to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.  The crowd shouted Hosana, save us, as they were expecting a conquering king in Jesus who would free them from the bondage of the Roman Empire.  And just a few days later, many of these same individuals shouted “crucify him” because the king they imagined didn’t materialize.

As you look back today and remember what took place over 2000 years ago, I encourage you to see today, tomorrow and the future a little differently.  Ask yourself this question, “Do you really believe with all your heart about Jesus suffering, death and resurrection and, most importantly, Jesus’ promised return…and, are you counting on it?”

Who is the Justifier?

Today’s Passage:  (Romans 3:19-28)

How many times have you said something like this, “I am justified (in/of having done something) because…”  Or, maybe you have been quick to quote verse 23, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in response to someone while leaving out the most important verse 24.  As is often the case, quoting the Bible is a tricky thing you know.  There is nothing wrong with memorizing Bible verses but it is important to understand context. 

The key to today’s passage is not primarily about sin or the law but, as is often the case with the Bible, today’s passage is about God.  God’s action.  God as the Justifier.  In seminary we read a few sermons by the 18th century preacher Jonathan Edwards.  One, in particular, is on Romans 3:19 and titled, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”.  Now there’s a title sure to get some attention.  Edwards preaches the contrast of our sin against the holiness of God and, in short, to sin against God is a terrible crime deserving infinite punishment.  Infinite as in eternal.

Edwards’ sermon concludes with the following thoughts:  “I will finish what I have to say to natural men in the application of this doctrine, with a caution not to improve the doctrine to discouragement. For though it would be righteous in God for ever to cast you off, and destroy you, yet it would also be just in God to save you, in and through Christ, who has made complete satisfaction for all sin. Romans 3:25, 26. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Yea, God may, through this Mediator, not only justly, but honourably, show you mercy. The blood of Christ is so precious, that it is fully sufficient to pay the debt you have contracted, and perfectly to vindicate the Divine Majesty from all the dishonour cast upon it, by these many great sins of yours that have been mentioned. It was as great, and indeed a much greater thing, for Christ to die, than it would have been for you and all mankind to have burnt in hell to all eternity. Of such dignity and excellency is Christ in the eyes of God, that, seeing he has suffered so much for poor sinners, God is willing to be at peace with them, however vile and unworthy they have been, and on how many accounts soever the punishment would be just. So that you need not be at all discouraged from seeking mercy, for there is enough in Christ.”  (Source: http://www.jonathan-edwards.org/Justice.html)

Devotional Thought:  The question Paul is trying to answer is this, “How can a holy God be just if he pardons guilty sinners?”  The answer is simple yet ultimately troublesome for us humans who want to be in control – we celebrated the answer just a week ago…Jesus’ sacrificial death is what satisfied God’s wrath showing God’s justice in justifying sinners who have faith in Jesus. Justification by grace through faith in Jesus!

 

 

 

 

Author of Salvation…

Hillsong, in their song “Mighty to Save” sings these words…

Savior he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave 

As we approach Good Friday and then Easter resurrection, these words and their overall message of promise are so encouraging.  It is very good to remember what Jesus did for you and I and anyone else who confesses with their lips that Jesus is Lord and believes in their hearts that God raised him from the dead that they will be saved (paraphrase Romans 10:9).  And, Hebrews 2:10 tells us that Jesus is the pioneer of salvation.

So, for those who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is incumbent on them to be a living witness to this very reality…especially for those who have yet to know the saving grace of God.  I have known many who avoid Good Friday claiming that it is too brutal. Yet, unless you understand and accept the depth of love God has for all his children made real, in part, in the pain and agony of Good Friday, one cannot fully comprehend fully what salvation really means.

Devotional Thought:  As you look back today and remember what took place over 2000 years ago, I encourage you to see today, tomorrow and the future a little differently.  Ask yourself this question, “Do you really believe with all your heart about Jesus suffering, death and resurrection and, are you counting on it?”

The song by Hillsong, “Mighty to Save” ends this way and provides a bias for action on our part…based on your confession of faith!!

Shine your light and let the whole world see
Were singing for the glory of the risen king Jesus 

Ever present…

The selected text for today comes from Psalm 139.  The suggestion is on 2 verses, #1 and #13.  One of my great pet-peeves is taking Scripture out of context…in other words, proof-texting.  While these 2 individual verses are very good, if you want to begin to understand the closeness of the God we worship then read the whole of Psalm 139.

Do you believe God is ever present?  Have you stopped, recently, to think about this?  These are Lenten journey questions.  Is God’s presence comforting to you?  We Christians love to use fancy words and phrases…like omniscience and omnipresence.  How about saying instead…God knows me and God is with me.  The picture for this post was taken when Tari and I were in Yosemite in 2012.  I thought about this particular place looking down on the Yosemite Valley and thinking again about the many times and places in my life where God is and has been present…even in those times where I have felt alone.  For today, I can imagine sitting out on this outcropping and knowing God is there.  Equally true, I can imagine being one of those very small objects down below and knowing that the God I worship knows I am there and not only knows but is…present!

For today…the following prayer comes from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship – Daily Prayer (pg. 376):

Almighty God, creator of the universe,

we are awed by your wondrous works

and overwhelmed by your infinite wisdom.

For all your majesty we praise you;

yet even more

we rejoice that you do not forget us.

that you want to know us,

that you come to care for us,

sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, your Son in whose name we pray.  Amen.

 

God Almighty…

Whenever I think of “God Almighty”, I am immediately drawn to 2 passages of Scripture:  Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4.  For today, I will focus on Revelation 4.  Many Bibles provide the heading of “Heavenly Worship” for Rev 4 and it is an awe-inspiring vision to focus on.  But, just because it is a vision of heavenly worship – one to look forward to, it can also be the focus of our daily worship as well.

There isn’t enough time to spend on John’s imagery in Revelation for this blog post.  However, one image that is seen in both Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 is the image of worship that is amazing and that is the all-encompassing participation of those worshiping!!

Have you ever thought about what it will be like to come face to face with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  What will it be like to be surrounded by the glory of God Almighty one day?  Verses 8-9 in Rev 4 form the foundation for one the great hymns and my personal favorite.  Reginald Heber, a vicar in Hodnet, England, wrote 57 hymns.  The substance for one of these hymns is found in  Rev 4 and it is #3 in our hymnals…”Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God, Almighty.”  This passage and hymn speak of how we should see worship of God Almighty today and every day and, in so doing, preparing ourselves for when we sing and dance in the surrounding glory of the Lord God Almighty!!

Devotional Thought:  One verse stands out for our Lenten journey…“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!  All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea; holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”  All my works…all your works…shall praise the glory and majesty of the only one who is holy…the only one who is “perfect in power, in love, and purity”, the Lord God Almighty.  There is still work to be done!!

Readiness…

Matthew 24:42-51 (The Faithful Servant)

Well, this wraps up the Parables of Jesus.  This particular parable reminds me of the time when my mom went back to work and I was in 7th or 8th grade.  Both of my parents worked hard to make ends meet and I had certain “chores” that were to be done…in addition to making sure my homework was done each day.  These were not difficult chores typically:  take out the garbage, clean up my room, make sure the kitchen was clean and, often, start helping to prepare dinner before mom and dad got home from work.  Now, I knew the end of the work day was typically – 5:00 pm for mom and 6:00 pm for dad.  So, what would most kids do if you got home from school at 3:00 pm?  For those of you who are of the angelic nature and never procrastinated in getting things done, my hat goes off to you.  There was always time, right?  On a couple of occasions, however, 5:00 might be 4:30 – traffic was light or mom just finished up early that day.  There is one phrase that was clearly applicable here…BUSTED!!

Jesus is saying that if you knew the exact time when a burglar would seek to burgle your house then you would be ever vigilant.  Things don’t work like that with burglars and they won’t work like that with Jesus’ return.  Constant readiness is the only sure safeguard to being ready.  Jesus calls his followers to be ready at all times because there is no doubt about his return and there are consequences for lack of readiness.  Just like there were consequences for lack of readiness for mom and dad’s return after a long day at work.

Devotional Thought:  If you profess to serve God made real in Jesus and the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, we must accept the truth that our service must be done to the very best of our ability so that glory and praise go to our God.  You see, I believe the reward for faithful service is not the opportunity to sit back and relax, no, the reward for faithful service is the opportunity of serving in a higher and more responsible way.

Lighthouses…

“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”  (Luke 8:16–18)

There is a school of thought that says once you know something it is tough to not do something about it – even not doing something is doing something.   There is an edge to Luke’s words – an urging to heed what Jesus is saying.   The reality of this passage is fairly simplistic in nature…if you know the message of Jesus and believe it, there is an action that is intended.  For example, when a lamp is lighted, it is lighted for a reason – to bring light to the room.  In a similar way, once you know about the light of Jesus…more importantly, once you have received the light of Jesus, it is incumbent on each of us to increase the light – to spread the light.

As I write this, I think about today’s sermon and our response to having received the light of Christ by grace.  Having received the light of Christ, we are compelled to do good works in response to the grace of God to bring light to the WHOLE world.  Being light in a dark world, is part of being a disciple and something that is not an option.  Just like giving light to a dark room is what a lighted lamp does.  More importantly, this light is one that is borrowed.  It is because you and I have received light from Jesus that we are able to shine in this world…shining in such a way that does not seek congratulations or accolades.  We are to shine in such a way that those observing us – those who see us, those who see the church, will give glory to the Father.  It is the light that is to shine and not those privileged to be bearers of the light.

Devotional Thought:  Friends, like a lighthouse, let your light shine – the light you know that comes from Jesus – let your light shine so that others can see and in return, they…they can give glory, honor and praise to our God!!  In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 

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