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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

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mblaser4577

Regular, Everyday People

Acts 3:1-11

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he healed many who were suffering from ailments of all sorts: blindness, leprosy, lameness, and even bringing people back from the dead. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that Jesus (a.k.a. God in human form) is able to heal people. 

But then you get to Acts 3, and Peter heals a lame man at the temple gate. Peter, an uneducated fisherman, healed another human being. This is the same Peter who kind of, sort of, walked on water, but then lost faith and fell in and needed to be saved by Jesus. This is the same Peter who denied he was a disciple three times on the night Jesus was arrested. Peter has come a long way in his faith in just a short time. 

And in the same way that God called regular, everyday people to his inner circle and to do extraordinary things 2,000 years ago, He still does the same today. We may not be able to restore sight to the blind or help the crippled walk again. But we are still capable of doing great things in the name of Jesus to further His kingdom. Seek out opportunities to serve Him everyday, in all that you do. 

There is Hope

Acts 1:10-11

NRSV

The Message

In yesterday’s reading, Jesus made his ascension into heaven. I can only imagine how dramatic of a sight that would have been to those who witnessed that day. Even for those who believed from the beginning of His ministry that He was in fact God Incarnate, it had to be an awesome thing to see happen to a simple carpenter from Nazareth. 

So in today’s 2 verses, following the ascension, the witnesses stood there still in awe, and maybe also a little dumbfounded, at what they just saw happen. I imagine them looking a bit like this: 

I’m sure that it was more than just amazement though. I’m sure there was also a look and feeling of sadness as their beloved teacher was taken up for the last time. To go along with that, a few verses prior to this, the Apostles were asking Him if He was going to restore Israel, and he basically said “nope, not my call man.” So I’m guessing they may have also been a little disappointed that they were going to have to wait awhile, or 2000+ years as it turns out, before Israel would be restored. 

BUT (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?), angels appeared (men dressed in white robes) and asked them why are they staring at the sky? There is no reason to be sad, mad, or disappointed in the situation, because just as they saw Jesus taken up into the clouds, He will one day return again. And THAT is the message for the day. 

We may be upset, sad, disappointed, down, depressed, stressed, overwhelmed, etc. But we need to keep our eye on the prize. This lifetime is only a temporary layover before getting to our final destination. Jesus WILL one day return and restore us all. Can I get an amen? 

A New Beginning

Acts 1:1-7

NRSV

Luke, a physician and follower of Paul, and also the writer of the Gospel of Luke, is the writer of the Book of Acts. He has addressed this book to Theophilus. I did a little research to learn more about who Theophilus was, and it turns out that there isn’t 100% certainty on who he was. He may have been a Jewish social elite, Roman official, or it may be a metaphorical honorary title because the word theophilo means “friend of God” in Greek. (Source

Luke has established a timeline of events to open up this book. Following Jesus’ death, he appeared to the Apostles many times over the course of 40 days, and then ascended to heaven. Before being taken up, he commanded the Apostles to remain in Jerusalem until the Father sent his gift to them: the Holy Spirit (more to come on this soon). 

Finally, after being questioned by the Apostles about the restoration of Israel, Jesus reminds them that only the Father knows the time. 

As you may know, Acts of the Apostles is a historical book that outlines the founding of the Christian church by those who remained followers after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and those who became followers. In the first seven verses, Luke sets up how and when this new Church was going to be established. I capitalize the word Church on purpose because we aren’t talking about a specific building, but the people who make up The Church. This group of followers, who at first would be called followers of The Way, would be baptized by the Holy Spirit, which is how they would be officially commissioned to spread the Gospel throughout the region. 

We are about to embark on a 40 day (weekends not included) journey through the Acts and the founding of the church. This is going to be a slow-paced journey that will cover only a few verses at a time in hopes that we can dig deeper into the text and take more time to reflect on a small segment of scripture and find ways to apply it into our lives TODAY.

My hope and prayer, which I am sure is shared with the other contributors to the blog, is that over the next 8 weeks, we can engage in some great discussion about this book and how we as a Church got to where we are at currently. As I talk about with my 7th grade students all the time, this works best if this is a two way street. If we, the writers, are simply givers of information, and there is no dialogue following, we miss out on the opportunity to learn from each other. No one here (except maybe Bo) is an expert on any of this stuff. I look forward to learning as I prepare for my posts, as well as learn from my fellow bloggers, and hopefully also learn from readers who comment on our posts. As they say at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies…let the games begin!!

Letting Go

Jeremiah 29:10-14

I will start by saying the struggle is real. The past almost year has been a challenge to say the least; most notably the past several weeks. I’ve neglected my responsibilities writing for the blog because I’ve been bogged down (blogged down?) by work responsibilities. But tonight, I’m wedging in a few minutes to write for the first time in a few weeks. 

I was struggling with what to write for tonight, so while I was working through writer’s block, I decided to scroll through social media for a few minutes. That’s when I stumbled across this post from someone I grew up with. Although I don’t believe that this statement is true 100% of the time, I do believe without a doubt that we need to trust God’s role in our lives. 

Let me explain further. The idea that life is what it is and it can’t be any different isn’t completely true. Like if I am trying to keep up with my New Year’s Resolution (that I don’t ever actually make) to lose weight, but then choose to eat an entire quart of ice cream after a stressful day at work, I know that “it” could have turned out differently. I could have exercised a little more self-control and maybe allowed myself a single scoop of ice cream rather than the whole tub. 

But there are other things that just happen, and they are out of our control and there is no other way around it. That pretty much sums up my fall from late September through Thanksgiving. There were some things that happened that were not in anyone’s control. There isn’t any good explanation for why those things happened like they did. It would be easy to be angry, anxious, depressed. Question why that happened? Why us? And although things are definitely on an upward trend right now, the next near-tragedy could be lurking just around the corner. 

God has a way of challenging us and our faith. It doesn’t always make sense. At times, it is downright painful and difficult to understand. There are times when it is easier to throw our hands up and say “I give up!” But we have to remember that God has a plan for us. 

In Jeremiah 29, God was about to send Israel into exile for quite some time. The significance of 70 years can’t go unnoticed. In those days, that many years would mean that more than one generation likely will have passed before they were freed and able to return to their homeland. I can only imagine how stressful that would have been to have to up and leave home. I could imagine that it involved not knowing where the next meal would come from, or where people would find safe shelter. Not for a day or two, but for generations. 

Right now, in our very own country, we’ve had many trials and tribulations in the past year (or more I suppose, depending on who you are talking to). None of what has been going on makes much sense most of the time. We can shout out things like “Why God?” or “When will this end?” But at the end of the day, we have to trust that we will get through this. 

I love history. Whether it is reading about it, or watching a documentary or even a movie based on a historical event, I find it all fascinating. And the interesting thing is that much of what we have endured in the past year isn’t new nor the first time some of these things have happened. And yet, here we are. I’m sure there will be things that will change. Some for the better, some not I’m sure. But what matters most is where we place our trust. 

I definitely trust God way more than I trust the humans running any governmental agency. I trust God way more than I trust any talking head I see on TV or read about. I don’t know what His plan is for the future. It may go more smoothly eventually, or we may be just at the tip of the iceberg here. Either way, I know that I trust Him. And I hope you do too. 

God’s Family

Psalm 148; Isaiah 49:5-15; Matthew 12:46-50

Psalm 148 is an excellent prayer of praise for God, who created all things. All of God’s creation should praise His name for what He has done. There is no one greater than He who brought all things into being. 

Isaiah 49 (v. 5-15) is a foretelling of the coming Messiah and what He will mean to the world. And because of the One who will save us all from sin, we should praise the Lord. But, instead, correctly foretold, Israel rejected the One sent. People will say that God has forsaken them. But how could God, the Father, forget his children? Does a mother forget the children to whom she has given birth? No! And neither would God forget any part of His creation. 

In Matthew 12, Jesus defines who is His family. It’s not just his earthly mother and brothers, but all of those who follow Him. We, as part of The Church, are part of the family of Christ, and therefore of God. 

There will always be those who reject God, but then instead of looking at themselves in the mirror, will blame God for all of their problems. Not everyone will be part of the Family of God. But that’s not because He has left them out or forgotten about them. Rather, it will be because they walked away from the ultimate prize; salvation. As long as we keep our sights set on Him, then He will be there for us. We shouldn’t forget that…ever. 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, today and always, I pray that my heart and thoughts be open to you and your path set out before me. I pray that I never lose sight of the real prize, which is eternal life and salvation found only in you through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Zechariah’s Song

Zechariah's Song - Dee Brestin Ministries

Luke 1:67-80

This passage is titled Zechariah’s Song, and his song of praise for God for what has transpired and what is also to come. Zechariah and Elizabeth are in their later years of life and have been without children of their own, when an angel came to them to say that Elizabeth would bear a child to be named John, who would pave the way for the coming Messiah. Zechariah did not believe it was possible because of his & Elizabeth’s age. The penalty for his unbelief was that he lost his ability to speak for Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy. Just prior to this passage today, the baby was born, and everyone looked to Zechariah to see what the child’s name would be, and he wrote on a tablet that his name was to be John. At that exact moment, Zechariah’s ability to speak returned immediately. And that’s when what is called Zechariah’s Song came to be. 

It took Zechariah being hit with immediate loss of speech, and to have it return immediately after falling into the faith line, to realize the power of God. Isn’t that how it is with all of us too? Even when God is present right before our very eyes, we still don’t believe sometimes. At times, it takes until much later to realize how God’s hand was involved in an event in our lives. In the time between our faith shortcoming and our realization about what happened, we live in a state of confusion and feeling lost. And then we have that ah-ha moment and realize our mistake. But despite that, God is still there waiting for us to come around and come to the realization that He is still leading us. 

As we are into our last week of Advent, continue to look out for those God moments that we have everyday and be grateful, even when they are things we don’t completely understand. Just like Zechariah couldn’t possibly believe that Elizabeth could bear a child, there are going to be times that just don’t make even close to any sense at all. Just like it didn’t make sense that the Messiah would come in the most humble of ways, and live amongst us as a regular looking man, preaching to forgive our enemies and all sorts of other things that didn’t make sense. As the old saying goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways. But if we keep our eyes open and our hearts open to God, they may not be all that mysterious afterall. 

Merry Christmas to all of you. 

The Word

John 1:1-14

When setting out to write a story, it is important to grab your reader’s attention as quickly as possible. The best novels and movies grab your attention from the very beginning and draw you into the story. The main conflict of the story is defined very early on, usually in dramatic fashion. If we think about John’s Gospel and how it is written, it does just that. It is written unlike any other writing that was already circulating in its time regarding the life of Jesus. And there is a lot to unpack in this passage.

There is the part about how Jesus has always been since the beginning. There is also the part about Jesus being the Light that darkness could not overcome. There is the part about John (the Baptist) who was sent to set the table for Jesus’ ministry. There is the part about how, even though all of this was true, and even though the Jews were waiting expectantly for The Messiah, they didn’t even recognize it when He was right in front of their faces. And finally, there is the part at the end about how he was fully human and also fully God. 

But out of this entire passage, I want to focus on one word: Word. To prepare for this writing, I read a commentary on John 1 because I wanted to see what new perspective I could get and give to a passage that is very familiar. The paragraph providing commentary on “Word” was something that resonated with me. 

That commentary states that John probably chose these words very carefully to introduce this man, Jesus, because referring to him as The Word would have made sense to both Jew and Greek alike. The Greeks believed that the universe (kosmos) is an ordered place, and behind this order is reason. Reason comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from logos. For the Jews, creation took place through God’s spoken word. The commentary also states that in John’s day, word was associated with wisdom. And from Proverbs 8, we read that Wisdom was at God’s side at the creation. And it is THROUGH the Word that all things were created, meaning that Jesus is an agent of creation. 

This opening sets the tone for the all that is to come in this Gospel story; that it is going to be much different than the rest that has been written about Jesus. John hammers home time and time again the divinity of Jesus, leaving us without a single doubt that Jesus is the Son of God; the Messiah. And this opening message about who exactly Jesus is and was would have made sense to both Jew and Gentile alike. 

As we continue our journey toward Christmas Day, let us remember that Jesus is even more than just the Messiah; the one whose coming was foretold by the prophets of old. He was more than just the person who performed miracles and taught in the synagogues. He isn’t separate from God. He IS God. And He has existed longer than time itself. All power and glory lies in Him. 

Peace on Earth

Silent night, holy night - Blog - Dotten Collision, Inc.

Philippians 4:4-9 says “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

This is one of my all-time favorite Bible passages because it’s a very reassuring message in a broken, beaten, scarred world. But as I read it for this writing, at first glance, I was wondering how I would connect it to Advent. Thanks to the magic of Google, I was quickly directed to the message of peace in these six verses and the connection to the second candle of the advent wreath, which is also the peace candle. Sometimes I guess I just need God to work through Google to help me make connections. 

But it all makes sense. In Isaiah 9:6, we read that the One to come will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And when angels appeared to shepherds in the fields, they proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” If you just stop to think about that phrase “and on earth peace,” literally, Peace was born and lain in a manger as those angels were making their big announcement. 

As I read more about it, I found that peace is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible. So many people read the Bible and hear stories about a God of vengeance. But in reality, He is a God of peace. And He proved his point by coming to Earth in the most humble of ways. The Jews were awaiting a “savior” that would come with vengeance and free the Holy Land from the reign of terror by the Romans, and finally eliminate all of the enemies of the Jews. But He did just the opposite. Instead, He sent just a regular looking man with no military force. No violence…well, ok, I guess there was that whole table flipping thing in the temple courtyard. But Jesus was also fully human after all. But that “regular man” had all the power necessary to fulfill His ministry and overcome death. 

One final note on peace. My favorite part about Christmas Eve has always been that late night worship service, with all of the Christmas decorations providing most of the light in the sanctuary, and the singing of the closing hymn of Silent Night in the candle light. And the final words of the first verse say “sleep in heavenly peace.” It is that final hymn by candlelight that I truly feel at peace with everything in the world, even if only for a few fleeting moments before I return to the waiting world and all of its craziness. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but maybe this year, I need to try to focus more on finding at least a small slice of peace in each day. 

The Lord Our Righteous Savior

2371.) Jeremiah 33 | DWELLING in the Word

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry took place during a not so pleasant time in the history of Judah. The king of Judah, Josiah, was killed in battle against the Egyptians, despite warnings to avoid conflict in a battle that didn’t originally involve the Kingdom of Judah. Following this, Judah entered a time of turmoil at the hands of the Egyptians, Babylonians, and terrible leadership by the successors of Josiah. The Kingdom of Judah, you could say was headed the wrong way down a one-way street toward destruction. In fact, Jeremiah correctly predicted the fall of Judah and the exile of the people of Judah as a result of said poor leadership. 

With that background in mind, we get to chapter 33 of Jeremiah. There is a promise ahead that will restore Judah. Help is on the way. That help will come from the line of David, and he will do what is just and right. He will save Jerusalem, and Jeruselam will live in safety. This person will have a specific name. He will be called “The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” 

As we gear up for the Christmas season, and the yearly hustle and bustle of the shopping, decorating, and dinner preparations for the holiday itself, let’s not lose sight of the true reason we are celebrating this time of year. It is easy for the true meaning to get lost in translation of our modern times. Now as much as any other time in our history, we are in need of a savior. As much as we may think that shiny new toy, or a big screen TV, or a Lexus (like who actually gets a Lexus for a Christmas gift as the commercial suggests we do?), what we really need can’t be boxed up, wrapped, and have a bow placed on it. More stuff is exactly what we don’t need. There is so much more hope in the birth of that one child on that one day in Bethlehem so long ago than in anything that can be bought in a store. So, now and always, let’s focus our hope on Jesus. 

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