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God's Treasures (August 20, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The dictionary defines “treasure” as “something of great worth or value ... a collection of precious things.” Most of us think of treasure as something like gold or diamonds … something worth a lot of money. But a “treasure” can also be something that’s determined to be priceless by a personal assessment … like a picture of a loved one or small token of appreciation given by a dear friend. Regardless of monetary value, a “treasure” is priceless to the one who holds it … and if lost, something one goes in search of.

God created us, from the very start, to be His treasure. Even after Adam and Eve fell into temptation and sinned, we have remained God’s treasure. Adam and Eve hid themselves in fear after realizing they disobeyed God. But God actively called out for them, searching for His treasure. And He didn’t stop searching. Over and over, His people ran and hid … sinning against Him. Yet, He continued calling out to His people through His prophets. As His people Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, God’s servant Moses reminds them, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6)” 

Finally, at the right time, God proved His assessment of our value to Him when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sin and eternal death. Jesus paid the price to save us, not with treasures of silver and gold, but by giving everything He had, His body and blood. He sacrificed His life to purchase His Father’s treasured possession, you and me, from sin and death. 

Though to some, we might not be much to look at, we are God’s treasure. And those who believe in Jesus receive the greatest treasure of all – not silver or gold – but eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. 

In the Love of Christ,

Pastor Jim

Groans of Prayer (August 5, 2020)

woman touch rainy glass

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Have you ever struggled to get words out of your mouth? Sometimes you can’t remember the word for or name of something. Perhaps you’re making a presentation on a complex subject. Or maybe it’s just a tough situation where you’re trying to comfort someone. Whatever the case, the words in your head won’t come out of your mouth. Then, what comes out is a noise, a grunt, a groan. That hardly makes for good communication for most of us.

When it comes to prayer, we know God wants us to pray. But sometimes we’re not sure of the words to pray. Frankly, God doesn’t care about the words. He just wants us to trust Him by knowing He will hear our prayers and answer them in accord with His good and perfect will. Yet, often we aren’t sure what to say – which is understandable given who we’re speaking with … God!

If you happen to find yourself here, take comfort from Paul’s letter to the Romans. He writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26) Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to His people (John 16:7-13). In Baptism, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our souls, helping us in all things – especially our belief in Jesus and His promises to hear our prayers. 

In those moments when you’re feeling distraught and all you can do is say, “UGH … ARRGH … UGH!” These are groans. We’re stuck and don’t know where to go. But, “He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27) Our groans are the words of the Holy Spirit making our needs known to God. And God … He completely understands. So, don’t worry about what to pray – keep groaning. The Holy Spirit will translate.

                                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Heirs of the Kingdom (August 2, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

There’s something to being part of a family that can include certain privileges – benefits for simply being in the family. I read a story in Our Daily Bread, my go to devotional booklet, about a guy named John Jr. John and a friend took a tour of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. During the tour, the guide accidently led them into a restricted area where they were stopped for the violation. It just so happened that John Jr. was John F. Kennedy Jr. the son of the president for whom the aircraft carrier the USS John F. Kennedy was named. That changed everything! You see, if a U.S. Navy ship is named after someone, it’s considered that person’s ship. Therefore, as the son of the person for whom the ship was named, John Jr. had inherited that same ownership – he had unique privileges.

Paul comforts us in knowing that all who believe in Jesus also have some unique privileges. Jesus is the Son of God. He is the rightful heir to the kingdom of heaven and all that entails. In baptism, God adopts believers in Christ as His sons and daughters (Romans 8:15). As God’s adopted sons and daughters, we become brothers and sisters of our Lord, Jesus Christ. But not only that, Paul writes that as “children of God … then (we are also) heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ …” (Romans 8:16-17) What a privilege!

However, we’re also called to use that privilege by living according to His will as we love Him and our neighbors in need. Especially those who haven’t yet become fellow heirs. Using our privilege can mean sacrificing ourselves by going against the will of the world we live in. As we do, the Spirit living within us enables us to say and do God’s will, even when others despise us. Nevertheless, one day, as heirs, we’ll be glorified because of our brother Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. We’ll inherit eternal life with our Father in the kingdom of heaven.

                                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Undertow (July 21, 2020)

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Dear Saints and Sinners,

Have you ever been caught in an undertow at the beach or a strong river eddy that sucks you under? These water hazards force you underwater and toss you uncontrollably. And you have no power to extract yourself from the hazard. You need someone to pull you to safety.

Paul has a passage in Romans, Romans 7:14-24, that makes me feel like I’m stuck in an overpowering undertow every time I read it. Paul goes back and forth, “I don’t do the things I want! The things I hate I do! The things I want I don’t do! I don’t do the good – I keep doing the evil! UGHHHH!” As I read, I feel caught in the undertow of my sin – the thing Paul hates and doesn’t want to do. Towards the end, worn out, Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) In this bundle of confusing words, Paul makes a point. Torn between good and evil, I’m powerless to extract myself from the undertow sin sucks me into. Sin keeps battering me on the rocks.

Do you ever find yourself doing things you know are against God’s law? It happens to me all the time. However, as I look back on my life, I also see undertows of sin I used to get caught in – and how I’ve been pulled from those hazards. Paul reveals my rescuer from the undertow of sin and death, Jesus! Just has He rescued me from the habitual sins I used to be caught in, He continues rescuing me from the ones I’m caught in today. Gradually, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God is making me holy, sanctifying me – enabling me to do more of the good I long to do while rejecting the evil I don’t want to do. I bet, if you look at your own life, you might see this same thing happening to you also. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

                                                                                        Your Fellow Saint and Sinner,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Losing to Win (July 15, 2020)

white-and-black dominoes

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The idea of losing to win seems counter-intuitive. Usually winners the ones who amass the most … the most points, the most runs, the most tallies … the most toys (“He with the most toys, wins.”). However, that’s not always true. Take Dominoes. The winner in Dominoes … the game, not the “knock’em down and watch’em fall” activity … is the one who loses all their blocks. You have to lose to win.

Jesus reminds us there is an infinitely bigger victory to be had by losing, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Jesus defines “life” as that which drives one’s motivations. The “thing” people love the most, that is their life. The Son of God calls Himself, “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) However, if one loves anyone more than Him – even family – they aren’t motivated by Him. Therefore, while one may seem to live well in the world, that won’t lead to the victory of eternal life. Only by putting the true God first, adhering to His will above all else, and losing one’s worldly motivations, can someone gain the gift of true life – eternal life. Losing the things of this world which distract us from devoting our lives to God above all brings eternal victory.

Jesus isn’t asking us to give up our literal lives. When He says, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me,” (Matthew 10:38) He isn’t saying we must martyr ourselves on a cross. We need to give up things leading us away from the life only He can give. Even if that means losing the things the world calls “life” – prestige, fame, belonging, or position – at the expense of devotion to the life God calls us to live, in His Word, as His disciples. So, let us seek this life. Let us lose our devotion to life in this world … to gain the victory of life eternal.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Purchases vs. Gifts (July 9, 2020)

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Dear Sinners and Saints,

Have you ever bought yourself a gift? I remember several Christmas seasons ago. I went to the electronics store, bought the thing I wanted, wrapped it, and put it under the tree. When I opened it, I said, “Wow! Just what I always wanted!!!”  But, was that really a gift? No. It wasn’t. I bought it with money I set aside. It wasn’t given to me – it was given by me. I bring that up because, one of Paul’s most recognized passages hits on this idea.

Many have heard and recognize Paul’s passage in Romans describing the difference between purchase and gift. He writes, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) A wage is something we earn. I worked to earn the money I set aside for that Christmas “gift”. I earned it. Paul also writes, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) So, we’ve all earned the wages of sin – death. But, God, in His infinite mercy, despite what we’ve earned, gives each of us a true gift – the opposite of death! He gives us eternal life. Free of cost to us. It’s there for the taking. All we need to do is pick it up, open it, take it, and use it. Forgiveness.

Actually, this gift might be free to us; but there’s, “No such thing as a free lunch.” Somebody paid for our gift. Jesus Christ, paid the price for the gift of our forgiveness and eternal life by dying on the Cross. Free to us – yes. But, not free. God, in His love, gives this gift to all who believe in Jesus. 

And He desires for us to pick this gift up and use it. He desires that we forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Showing the love of God for us to others, so they might also accept the gift purchased for us by Jesus’ precious blood and join us in eternal life.

                                                                                        Your Fellow Sinner and Saint,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Keep on Hoeing (June 24, 2020)

man wearing brown sunhat holding rake

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A devotion I read had this little anecdote about a church sign in “farm country.” It said, “Pray for a good harvest, but keep on hoeing.” There’s a lot of truth in those words. It shows faith that God hears prayer. But it also reflects the truth that God gives us all gifts to be used to fulfill His will in the world.

Jesus began His ministry without any disciples. However, He quickly sat them down and gave them the gift of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Then He gave them the gift of witnessing His miracle-working power through healings and mastery over nature and evil demons (Matthew 8-9). But these gifts simply set the stage for what Jesus truly intended for His disciples. Yes, He wanted them to believe in Him and His work. Yes, He wanted them to follow His example and live according to His teachings. But, more importantly, He wanted them to use these gifts to lead other people to Himself.

Jesus selected twelve of His disciples to be Apostles, from the Greek word ἀποστέλλω (apostello) which means sent out. They were to go into the world using the gifts He’d given them to say, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 10:7) While they were to pray that God would save the lost sheep of Israel, they weren’t to sit around letting God do all the work. They were to be the means, the workers, God used to bring His kingdom to fruition.

Two-thousand years later, we’re the disciples. God has blessed each of us with many gifts, including the gift of faith in Him. We know God hears our prayers and answers them. However, we need to also realize, that we are also often the answer to prayers … our own and others. As we pray for family, friends, and neighbors to come to Christ, remember to “keep on hoeing.” God has gifted us to faithfully work the fields, so He can bring in the rich harvest.

                                                                                        In Christian Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim