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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

Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

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

Photo by Pan Species on Unsplash

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

Commanded to Go (June 17, 2020)

person shoveling snow

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I was a kid, I had to do chores. Though I didn’t like chores, I was commanded to do them as part of living in the house. They weren’t fun, but it was necessary work that needed to be done. So, commanded by my parents, I did them.

Life for Jesus’ disciples during Jesus’ ministry may not always have been fun, but I’m guessing it was often interesting. Think about it for a second – they got to watch Jesus up close and personal! They heard Him teach, saw Him perform incredible miracles, watched Him make peace with others through forgiveness of sins. Finally, they witnessed the most amazing thing of all … His torturous death followed by His resurrection.

Then, after 40 days, as Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” This was a command – not a request. I can imagine these 1st century disciples still spent time fishing and having some fun, but their focus, even in the face of persecution, was heeding Jesus’ command … “Go.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, they endured. And today, whether we’re thrilled about it or not, Jesus commands us, His 21st century disciples, to continue making disciples of all nations.

I read of a missionary who was asked if he enjoyed his work. His shocking response, “Do I like this work? No. My wife and I do not like dirt … We do not like crawling into vile huts through goat refuse. But is a man to avoid what he does not like if Christ tells him to do it? … Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to ‘Go,’ and we go. Love constrains us.” In response to God’s love for us, whether we like it or not, we love our neighbors – and go – showing them God’s love through our faith filled words and deeds.

                                                                                        In Christian Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Somewhere in the Middle (June 10, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I don’t travel much anymore. Work used to take me on many long trips. My method to survive – crash in the seat and hope I awoke as we started descending. But I usually woke up before then wondering, “Are we in the middle somewhere or near the end?”

Today is Pentecost. Jesus has ascended to heaven. He promised to come back … a day we call the “last day.” As we wait, it’s natural to think, “I wonder when that day will come.” Peter gives us a clue. As he speaks to the crowds on Pentecost, he says, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be … I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh …’ (Acts 2:16-17) 

According to Peter we’re in the last days … he said they began when the Spirit was poured out on the disciples. But Peter also mentions the final last day, “the day of the Lord, the great and magnificent day (Acts 2:20).” Jesus will return on the final last day. So … today we’re somewhere in the middle. But, something like waking up in the middle of a long journey, we don’t know where. 

This uncertainty can be problematic. First, distress might set in because we hear about fire, smoke, and the sun turning to darkness … scary things indeed. Or, complacency might set in as we think we’ve got plenty of time to sort things out before the day of the Lord. 

But there’s a third option – “It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:20-21).” As we live in these last days, we trust Jesus’ promise that His return will be a great and magnificent day. So, let’s not be distressed … let’s trust His promise. And let’s not get complacent … let’s serve Him by proclaiming the good news to all we meet in words and deeds that they too might be saved along with us.

                                                                                                In Christian Love,

                                                                                                Pastor Jim

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