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That's Impossible (July 28, 2021)

File:2018-10-16 Gymnastics at 2018 Summer Youth Olympics – Rhythmic Gymnastics - Clubs final (Martin Rulsch) 154.jpg

CREDIT: Martin Rulsch

Dear Friends and Family,

In case you missed it, the Olympics are coming up. I love to watch sports – baseball, college basketball, and a little football. During the Olympics though, my attention expands to other sports – specifically gymnastics. Why? World-class gymnasts pull out all the stops for the Olympics. They do some amazing things. As I watch, I’m constantly stunned at what they can achieve as these gymnasts defy gravity and the bounds of human movements. A frequent thought is, “That’s impossible!” Of course, it isn’t … because I just saw it happen … but still, it seems impossible!

This past week was Vacation Bible School and our theme was, “Jesus does the impossible.” While gymnasts and the other Olympic athletes seem to do the impossible, they are simply using the gifts God has given them to the maximum extent. But Jesus does do the impossible – in small and great ways! One of these impossible events we saw during VBS is Jesus walking on water as the disciples struggled to get their boat across the Sea of Galilee. They saw Jesus walking on the water and said, “That’s impossible!” (Mark 6:49-50/Matthew 14:26) Then, as soon as Jesus got in the boat with them, the wind storm ceased “And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33).

Throughout His ministry Jesus did a selected number of miracles, things impossible for you and me, to a selected number of people, for one purpose – to show people that He is, as the disciples stated, the Son of God. And as the Son of God, as amazing and impossible as turning water into wine, walking on water, healing the sick and raising the dead are, He did something even more impossible for us to do. He lived a perfectly sinless life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead so that, you and I and all who believe in Him can receive the gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Jesus does do the impossible! Thanks be to God.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

 

Plan Ahead (July 21, 2021)

Photo by Tabea Damm on Unsplash 

Dear First Family and Friends,

Summer’s here. With it, many of us are planning our vacations (or have already taken vacations we planned). Planning ahead, for some of us, helps ensure we can relax a little more because – we’ll know ahead of time what we need to go where we’re going so we can do what we want when we get there. “Winging it” – another approach – can be exciting and it can work. But, having a plan, even if it changes, helps things go a little more smoothly in most cases.

Even God plans ahead. When Adam and Eve fell into sin … not part of God’s original plan when He created all things … God made a new plan. Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with God’s plan, made known to us through His Word – given to His prophets and the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. Paul says that God has made “known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10).

God’s plan – first made known to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) and continually made known to men and women like Abram and Sarai (Genesis 12:1-3), Ruth (Ruth 4:11-22), David (1 Chronicles 17:7-15), and all the prophets – is to redeem His creation and bring it back into unity through His Son, Jesus Christ. And you and I, along with all who believe in God’s word and promises, placing our hope and trust in Jesus, are included in this plan. God has planned ahead to save us also (Ephesians 1:4-5).

We are among those who have “heard the word of truth, the gospel of (our) salvation, and believed in Him” (Ephesians 1:13). As a result, we live with the guarantee of eternal life. It’s not ours to see – yet – but we know it’s coming. Thanks be to God for His perfect planning – and for including us in it ahead of time.

                                                                                                Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                                Pastor Jim

Supply Chain (July 1, 2021)

Photo by Tobias Rademacher on Unsplash 

Dear People of God,

You might be familiar with the term “supply chain” – or maybe not. It describes how things come to be in our lives. A child, asked to lead the family’s dinner grace, said, “Thank You for this food; my parents who bought it; store workers who sold it and the truck drivers who delivered it; factory workers who packaged it; farmers who grew and raised it; the sun and rain that nourished it. And thank You for providing these things so we could eat tonight. Amen.” This child understood “supply chain” and who owns all the stuff many claim ownership over.

The Corinthians Paul wrote to didn’t understand this supply chain. They were a comfortable lot with considerable skills. Paul reminded them of all they excelled in. Yet they needed to excel in one more area – trusting God to provide for their daily needs instead of keeping their wealth to themselves (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Paul uses the poverty-stricken Macedonians, who begged him for the privilege of giving their money to the even poorer Christians in Jerusalem, as an example. The Macedonians understood God and His divine supply chain wouldn’t leave them wanting. They trusted Him to provide for their needs even as they gave generously to others.

God faithfully provides for our needs too. He’s the source of all we have because He loves and cares for us. And we can trust His continued provision. He certainly provides to us to sustain us in this life. But He also provides to us so we can, in proportion to what He provides, give to others. Some receive more, some less, but all receive something. And God calls us to follow Him in faith by sacrificing a portion of the time, talent, and treasure He’s given us toward His mission to provide for and redeem all mankind. 

Our generosity definitely helps people with their needs. But, more importantly, it’s a sign of our faith in God. It’s a sign of thanks for past and present provision, as well as trust in His future provision.

                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                  Pastor Jim

The Answer Man (June 24, 2021)

                                                                  

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When we need an answer to a tough question, where do we go? Many of us dive into Google or YouTube. Tough questions existed before the internet. Believe it or not, there was a time when you had to find another person for answers. For example, I remember “The Shell Answer Man” – the expert on car-related questions. Trusted sources help us answer the tough questions.

In God’s word we see a man named Job who seemed to have it all – family, possessions, influence, and health. Suddenly Job lost it all. Then Job begins questioning God on why all this happened to him. Didn’t God know Job was righteous and good? Why the punishment? Why the wrath? Job’s line of accusing questions comes in chapter after chapter in this book. Job, thinking it’s all God’s fault, rebukes God for God’s role in his suffering. And Job’s three friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – aren’t much help. They think they have the answers to what ails Job – he needs to do a bunch of things to get himself right with God. Because Job’s not doing these things, he’s wicked and God is punishing him. These men think they have all the answers …

Then God answers them all, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2-4). God the creator of all things reminds Job that He, and only He, is the trusted source with the answers to our questions. The answers we need to know are found in God’s word. Answers to other questions can wait. And the biggest answer to the biggest question, “God, how can I be saved from my sin of turning to others ahead of You for answers and receive eternal life?” is hearing God’s promises to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9) and grant us eternal life (John 3:16).

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Propagating Life (June 16, 2021)

Stevia cuttings after 18 days in water : bouturage de stev… | Flickr

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

One of my hobbies is gardening – specifically tomatoes. I enjoy fresh tomatoes on a summer day! That said, did you know that if you want more tomato plants, you can clip off a branch, stick it in the ground, tend it carefully, and – BOOM! – you’ll have another plant with more tomatoes to eat? I didn’t – but it’s true!

Gardening helps me more closely experience God’s amazing creation. And my newfound knowledge about propagating new life with clippings helps me understand God’s word in Ezekiel 17:22-24. By Ezekiel’s time, God’s children of Israel had fallen away from Him. Though God had given them everything they had, they mostly turned away from Him. Like a tall, strong tree, they grew proud of their own accomplishments and achievements … forgetting God’s saving grace and crediting themselves for all they had. Yet God never grew apart or turned away from His people.

God used the parable of a tall proud tree to illustrate His constant love for Israel. God would bring that proud tree low by clipping off it’s top. Then, from this clipping, He propagated new life saying, “I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar.” (Ezekiel 17:22-23). 

From this clipping, the small number of faithful children who hadn’t turned away from Him, God propagated new life in His kingdom. This “clipping” grew into the noble cedar of Jesus Christ, who died on a tree – the cross of Calvary – planted outside Jerusalem. And under Jesus, all nations, including you and me, are offered safety and rest, “And under (this tree) will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest” (Ezekiel 17:23). May God bless us and all who believe in Him as we find rest in His holy presence in our lives.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Pain Don't Hurt (June 9, 2021)

Dear Children of God,

My favorite sport is baseball. There are lots of reasons, but one of them is the “characters” who are part of the game. One of the things about characters is that what they say doesn’t seem to make sense until you think about it for a second. Bob Uecker on catching a floating knuckleball: “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling.” Yogi Berra on getting beaten badly early in a game: “It’s getting late early.” Sparky Anderson on soreness: “Pain don’t hurt.” Okay, so pain does hurt …

But while the affliction of pain in all its forms – physical, emotional, and spiritual – does indeed hurt, does it need to rule us? St. Paul would say, “No.” Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Paul reminds us that life on earth is going to be fraught with moments of pain of all kinds. But this pain is not a permanent thing. In it, God is with us. In it, He strengthens us to endure. In our earthly pain and weakness, He makes us strong enough to persevere by faith in Him … through this life … into eternal life (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

Our faith in Christ doesn’t make sense to the world around us. Satan tries to use our pain, caused by the world’s sin, to turn us away from God. But as God strengthens and comforts us – and enables us to endure – our faith-filled lives become a testimony to the world. When people ask, “How do you get through that pain?” We can testify, “This is just temporary. God has strengthened me to endure. And one day, because of Jesus’ pain and suffering on the cross – and His resurrection – I’ll be free of all this forever.” Pain does hurt – but it’s only temporary.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Found in Translation (June 3, 2021)

Book, Glasses, Translate, Translation, Foreign Language

CREDIT: Max Pixel (www.maxpixel.net)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I was in the Air Force, I got to help develop some remarkable software that automatically translated foreign languages into English. It helped people be able to read and understand the documents more easily. The most gratifying aspect of the job came years later while planning a trip to Germany. The websites I came across were all in German. But I noticed a “translate button” on the screen so I clicked it. The cool thing, the button translated the pages perfectly – with the same software I helped develop years before.

Translating foreign languages into understandable words has always been a valuable skill. Without it, it’s nearly impossible to communicate. We read in the Bible that God caused these languages to come about because people were too easily working together to build a tower to heaven – rather than trusting God to reach down to them (Genesis 11). 

But God desired to bring His people back to Himself through His word. His work continued as Jews and converts from across the world gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost (The Feast of Weeks) after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. The Holy Spirit became the divine translator. He enabled Jesus’ disciples to speak the language of all these pilgrims so they could hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to save them and all mankind from the eternal effects of sin.

Today this news continues spreading everywhere as the full Bible has been translated into over 700 languages. Through the same Holy Spirit, we can understand God’s word and His grace and mercy for us. We’ve been brought to faith in Christ. But the Holy Spirit continues His work in us. Dwelling within us, He daily urges us to immerse ourselves in God’s word through prayer, worship, and service to God. Through this immersion, the Holy Spirit reveals to us how God wants us to serve Him and others through gifts He’s given us. Why? For one reason – that others can also be brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

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