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Living in Hope (November 30, 2022)

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Dear Advent People,

Are your lists together yet? Gifts you need to buy … gifts you want … things you need to do and places you need to go this month. There are parties and lunches and gift exchanges and specials and cards and letters and … and … and … it doesn’t end in this season of waiting and preparation for Christmas – this season the church calls “Advent.” All the hustle and bustle though can distract us from the event we’re actually waiting and preparing for – and it’s not December 25th. 

Advent is a season of patient waiting and preparation marked by hope based firmly on God’s promises to us. Hope-filled promises found in God’s Word. Our hope might be tenuous at times based on what we see around us. There’s no doubt that things look to be out of control … and it’s not just the stores, roads, and our jam-packed schedules. There’s also – rampant illness, conflict, violence, wars, and … and … and … the list seems to go on forever. But it won’t. Our hope is in the Lord (Psalm 130:5). Through His prophets, like Isaiah, God gives us hope – one day all this will end, “It shall come to pass in the latter days … He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:2,4)

We are Advent People, waiting in hope for His promises to be fulfilled. This fulfillment began when Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. When He lived with us. When He died for us. And when He rose from the dead. Now we wait in hope for His return to bring us home. As we wait, let’s focus on His promises. Let’s not get distracted by things of the world. Let us put this at the top of our list – “Spend time with God and let Him lead me through the distractions.”

                                                                        Waiting Hopefully,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

End of the Season (November 23, 2022)

File:Baseball in the grass.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: Dennis on Flickr

Dear Saints,

This is a sad time of the year – the baseball season ended when the Astros won the World Series. For us, especially my wife Shauna, that means no more baseball to watch. While the Hot Stove Season, with all the trades and signings, is interesting, it’s not the same as watching live games. So, it’s a sad time as we head into winter. But there’s good news! Spring Training starts February 24th – a little over 3 months from now!

We’re coming up on other endings too. For example, though we don’t think much of it, we’re at the end of the Church Year. And our readings focus on another end – the end of time. For many, the end-times are not only sad, but scary because, unlike a baseball season, we have no idea when the Last Day will be. But Jesus informs us, “Heaven and earth will pass away … For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:33, 35) And these days will not be easy. They’ll be filled with terrible things. And not just for unbelievers, but also for believers (Luke 21:16-17). But even with all this, Jesus encourages and comforts us.

First, He encourages us, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness …  for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (Luke 21:13,15) He calls us to witness to others in this time of distress that they too might join us. Then He comforts us, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:18-19) We need not be distressed in this time. Why?

It will be sad, but … we’ll be ushered into a new and eternal season. We and all who believe in Christ will be redeemed! We will be saved! We will live again … raised to new lives, in glorious new bodies, living for eternity in the Kingdom of God! The ultimate good news indeed! 

                                                                        Your Fellow Saint,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Wrestling with God (November 16, 2022)

Wrestling icon | Free SVG

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Fighting sports – boxing, ultimate fighting, wrestling – aren’t on my list of “things to do or watch.” I’m not sure why, but I think it might be the constant contact involved. For example, wrestling is about grabbing hold of your opponent. Then, while maintaining contact, maneuvering them into a position of submission while you try to avoid being maneuvered into the same. However, wrestling can be a good metaphor for our life with God.

One of the bible’s great stories is about a wrestling match that takes place during the night. Jacob was pretty good at manipulating things to get his way - see Genesis 25:19-26Genesis 25:28-34,Genesis 27:1-40 for some examples. 

As Jacob was set to face his brother Esau, his trickery met its match. God decided it was time to let Jacob know he needed to trust more in God than his own wits and abilities. God appeared to Jacob, as a man, for a wrestling match. The night-long match was pretty much a stalemate until God, using some sleight-of-hand, touched Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint. But Jacob, recognizing his opponent as God, continued gripping God saying, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” By his constant contact with God, struggling with Him in faith, Jacob overcomes God’s wrath and receives His blessing.

Through this example, God shows us the importance of wrestling with Him in faith. We wrestle with Him in a number of ways. First, we have steady contact with Him through regular worship - experiencing His grace in His forgiveness of sin and the Lord’s Supper. We continue to maintain contact with God wrestling with His Word in daily devotion and study - learning His will for us, even if we don’t understand it. The wrestling continues in prayer - asking Him to give us understanding of and the strength to do His will. As we struggle, wrestle, and contend with God, He strengthens us to do more than we can ever imagine on our own (Ephesians 3:20).

                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Fork in the Road (November 9, 2022)

File:A fork in the road - geograph.org.uk - 558151.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: Nicholas Mutton

Dear Children of God,

The “fork in the road”. Go this way or that? I remember one of my forks, the college choice. I’d been accepted to Colorado and UCLA. Which would it be … California and sunshine, Colorado and mountains? I chose UCLA. It has, to one degree or another, affected me and my life in many ways. I have no idea how life would’ve been different had I decided on Colorado … other than I might be a lot better skier. What I do know is that my choice to take the journey to UCLA led to me being here today. I thank God for leading me to take the fork in the road pointing to California.

The Bible is filled with forks in the road, all of which have tremendous implications on us today. The first was Adam and Eve’s arrival at this fork in the road - follow God’s commandment or listen to the serpent. Their choice affected all mankind thereafter. It affected God too as He went into action to save His creation from their terrible choice. 

Centuries later, another fork arrived for God’s people. After her husband died, a woman named Ruth - a gentile from Moab - came to a fork in the road. She could remain faithful to her marriage vows and her mother-in-law Naomi. Or she could return to Moab to start over. Despite Naomi’s insistence that she return, Ruth said, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17) With no idea what lay ahead, she chose to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem.

Because of her choice, Ruth - a Moabite gentile - became the great-grandmother of God’s chosen king, David. And ultimately, the distant grandmother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17). Through Ruth’s decision at the fork in her road, God eventually redeemed His creation from Adam and Eve’s terrible decision in the Garden of Eden. Thanks be to God for Ruth’s faithfulness to her family and her God.

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Don't Fear (November 2, 2022)

Gift | Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background… | Flickr

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Dynamite comes in small packages! I first heard that when I was a kid and received a present in a little box. I was quite bummed as I was looking for something a lot bigger … like a bicycle. That wouldn’t fit in the matchbox before me. Pretending to be happy, I opened the little box … and found a key. A key to a lock that kept my new bike secure in the garage! Good things do come in small packages!

I’m sure we all have our ideas on “the dynamite” we find in small packages, but these all evaporate before us compared to the greatest gift of all that comes in the smallest of packages. Jesus says, “If you had faith like the grain of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6) Jesus isn’t trying to get any of us to telepathically transport objects from one place to another, but He is trying to help us understand that faith … even the smallest amount, can do great things!

Jesus’ disciples were concerned they were inadequate to the task of forgiveness of others — especially those who were continually sinning against them (Luke 17:1-4). And we all must admit, forgiveness is difficult. But Jesus connects faith to forgiveness — both the forgiveness we give others and the forgiveness we receive from God.

Faith in God and His promises empowers us to not only receive God’s mercy and grace but also to be the means He delivers this greatest gift of all to others. Even the smallest amount — and if you’ve ever seen a mustard seed (comparison here), it doesn’t take much — allows amazing things to happen. This includes the forgiveness of our sins — all of them forever; and the greatest gift of all — eternal life with the one true God in His new creation. All because of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Faith, like dynamite — a powerful force, comes in the smallest packages.

                                                                        Your Brother,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

First Impressions (October 26, 2022)

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Dear Saints and Forgiven Sinners,

“Put your best foot forward — you get one chance to make a good first impression.” That isn’t the actual quote, but it emphasizes that once the horse is out of the barn there’s no point closing the doors. 

Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a very poor beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). As the rich man’s life ticked away, he lived quite well for himself. And he completely ignored Lazarus in his extreme need even as he saw him begging each day. The rich man kept his provision to himself. Lazarus would’ve been happy to eat crumbs from the rich man’s table. The rich man feasted. Lazarus suffered. The waters of life flowed under the bridge.

Then both men died. The rich man, unconvinced God’s word called him to use his vast wealth — provided by God — to care for those in need, ended up in hell for his self-centered, sin-filled greed. In hell’s flames, Jesus tells us, the rich man suffered unquenchable thirst and merciless agony. No relief came. He’d made his first impressions in life — focused on nobody but himself — now it was too late. No way to go back to correct his sinful ways. The rich man begs to have Lazarus raised from the dead to warn his brothers. Jesus, ironically, says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31) 

God gives us many chances to be saved from the eternal effects of our sin. But salvation depends on believing, in this life, God’s word, “God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This saving truth is found only in God’s word — in Moses, the Prophets, and the word of Jesus Christ. Ignore this truth in this life and it’ll be too late. However, believe God’s word, receive forgiveness through Christ — you’ll be carried to Abraham’s side in the eternal kingdom of heaven. 

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Balanced Scales (October 19, 2022)

gold and silver round frame magnifying glass

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash 

Dear Saints and Forgiven Sinners,

You may know I was an engineer long before I became a pastor. As an engineer, I’m interested in tech that makes life easier – but not necessarily “high tech”. The Simple Machine – the six machines upon which all other machines, from wheelbarrows to jets, are made up of is what fascinates me. One of those Simple Machines, the lever, ends up making a more complex machine, the scale which is used to balance things out enabling accurate measures needed for science and fair trade. 

While a scale is a great way to ensure fairness and accuracy, it can also be misused to hide unfairness and inaccuracy. Unscrupulous merchants can make a scale seem to give a good measure while actually cheating the buyer out of their money, giving them less than they think they’re getting. God’s word calls this practice “stealing” because it makes people think they’re paying for a pound of flour even though they’re only getting fifteen ounces – or less! Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon practice and God calls His people out for their sinful behavior of “making the ephah (a weight) small and the shekel (money) great and dealing deceitfully with false balances (scales).” (Amos 8:5) Poor people were being cheated by the wealthy (Amos 8:4).

God calls on His people to deal fairly, use honest scales, with others. However, there is one scale that is decidedly unfair … tipped unfairly to one side versus the other. It’s the scale of God’s mercy. In fairness, God’s word says our sin, any of it, is only balanced by death (Romans 6:23), our death. However, in the mercy of God, instead of us paying the price of eternal death for our sins, as we justly deserve, Jesus died on the cross in our place. Through Him, the scales of eternal justice are tipped in our favor … our sins are forgiven so we receive eternal life. For the many times we use unfair scales, bringing sin upon ourselves, God mercifully rebalances them in our favor because of Jesus.

                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

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