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Spring Cleaning (March 13, 2024)

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CREDIT: www.easy-peasy.AI

Dear Saints,

There’s a curious human tradition some of us participate in each year … Spring Cleaning. All Winter things pile up around us. In preparation for Spring, we’re moved to clean up things inside and out. It even happens with FLC – March 16th is our FLC Spring cleaning day! 

Clutter affects more than our homes though. In the season of Lent – another Spring-time period – we’re called to reflect on our life with God and each other. As we do, we might see the need for some spiritual Spring Cleaning. Our readings for the 3rd Sunday in Lent reflect this. 

Jesus shows up at the temple for Passover, typically in the March-to-April timeframe. He sees the complete chaos going on – animals are being sold for sacrifices, moneychangers are turning Roman coins into temple shekels. The temple, Jesus’ Father’s house, is being completely misused through thoughtless commerce instead of heartfelt worship. In righteous anger Jesus shouts, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade,” (John 2:16) as He begins some Spring cleaning! 

His Father’s house had become polluted by corrupt commerce – taking advantage of people who needed certain items to make their sacrifices and pay their tithes to support the temple’s work. Jesus saw this commerce for what it was … blatant disregard for God in order to make a few extra shekels at the people’s expense. 

Today, by virtue of our baptisms, we are also temples in which God dwells. But we are also still sinners. God cannot dwell in the presence of sin. Therefore, because He desires to dwell among and within us as He promises, He cleanses our souls Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. The Holy Spirit, dwelling within us, causes us to feel guilt for our sins. He also enables us to believe God’s promise of forgiveness, moving us to confess our sins. Then God forgives us – cleansing the temple of our souls where He dwells. Cleansing each of us, not with whips of cords and righteous anger, by rather by His blood, poured out for us on the Cross.

                                                                                        Your Fellow Saint,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Anticipation (February 28, 2024)

Dear Children of God,

I remember an old advertisement for ketchup. The tagline, “Anticipation”, was accompanied by the early 1970’s Carly Simon hit by the same name. The ad showed a juicy burger, but it wouldn’t be complete without the thick, rich ketchup – which took forever to pour. As you waited, you anticipated the deliciousness to come! But you had to be patient!

“Patience is a virtue” that’s often in short supply. Even the heroes of the Bible – like the Old Testament members of the Hall of Faith, Abraham and Sarah – lacked it! God came to Abraham when he was 75-years old, Sarah was 65, and promised the elderly, yet still childless couple, they’d have a child and start a great nation – more numerous than the stars in the sky and sand on the beach. The decades passed and still, no children. Abraham and Sarah anticipated the birth of a son, the fulfillment of God’s promise, but ran out of patience. So, they turned to Sarah’s servant girl Hagar to help God out. Abraham got Hagar pregnant. She bore a son, Ishmael. 

But God reminded Abraham that His covenant was with him and Sarah, “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her… and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.’” (Genesis 17:15-16,19) And then, more anticipation – another year passed. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah as promised.

Forty-two generations later, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham was born – Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God (Matthew 1). Today, as we go through the lives God has given us to live here on earth, our anticipation continues – patiently awaiting Jesus’ return. As we wait, let’s heed God’s call to serve Him in joyful anticipation, showing His love to others that they too will join us in eternity on that day.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Tried and Tested (February 21, 2024)

File:Smooth Round Rocks Ocean (Unsplash).jpg

CREDIT: Zeny Rosalina on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I get to the ocean, I spend my time looking for interesting rocks. The impact of the ocean’s constant churn produces beautiful objects. Unlike hammers or chisels, the constant rolling and tossing smooths out the rough edges to create beautiful keepsakes. But, if you’ve ever been caught up in these same waves, you know they can be quite dangerous – causing serious injury and even death.

This tossing and turning of the sharp, jagged rocks – forming them into smooth, polished stones reminds me of God’s word, “Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial, for when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life, which God has promised those who love Him.”(James 1:12) These trials don’t happen because God delights in seeing us tossed and turned by the world. They happen because of Satan, who delights in throwing the world into chaos. However, when our faith is tested in trials, where do we turn? Do we turn to God – trusting Him above all else; or do we trust something Satan is using to try tearing us away from God? 

These trials can be dangerous and deadly if we place our trust in the wrong place. Trusting someone besides God might feel okay in the moment. However, ultimately this leads to crushing death. But, when we trust God, He provides the way through the trial we’re facing. In these times, our faith is strengthened – the hard, jagged edges of our sin-filled hearts are smoothed over by His mercy. 

During our Lenten journey, we remember that whenever we’re tested – or tempted – God our Father is with us. Just as He was with Jesus when He endured betrayal, suffering, and death on the cross. Because Jesus faithfully endured His trial, we’re strengthened to face our trials. And, when we fall to Satan’s temptation, falling into sin – God picks us up, wipes us clean, forgives our sin, and restores us to His path to receive the crown of life He promises. Let’s remember and rejoice in that!

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Party at the Mountaintop (February 14, 2024)

Purple balloons | Tom Magliery | Flickr

CREDIT: Tom Magliery on Flickr

Dear Children of God, 

Most of us like a good party – time to gather friends to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays. It’s not hard to attend parties, but it can be hard to invite people to attend. Why? We often need to limit invitations because of space available or expenses. So, we make our list and then pare it down to a number we can handle. These can be hard choices though.

It wasn’t a party with balloons and decorations, but Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) is a celebration with a very select guest list. Jesus took His inner circle of disciples – Peter and the brothers James and John – to a mountaintop. There Jesus was joined by the great prophets Elijah and Moses while He was transfigured – His clothes became whiter than pure snow and He became radiant! It was a coming out party for Jesus. For a moment, His true glory was revealed to Peter, James, and John. And then the Guest of guests arrived saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” (Mark 9:7) God the Father revealed, without question, Jesus is His Son – God in the flesh. What an event! What a celebration! Except … 

Jesus told them to keep the incredible news, the amazing sights to themselves until He’d risen from the dead. It wasn’t a time for celebrating – at least not yet. It was time to prepare others in the valleys and towns below for the Kingdom of God.

Lent, starting this week on Ash Wednesday, is not a time of celebrating either. It’s a time to prepare – ourselves and others – for Jesus’ resurrection on Easter! And a good way for us to prepare is by remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for us through sacrificing some of our comforts as part of Lent – sacrificing things we crave or our time to help others. We can also prepare by spending extra time in prayer and God’s Word – pick up a Be Gracious to Me Lenten devotional to help you. Lenten ideas like these can help you experience our Easter celebration more fully. 

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Know & KNOW HOW (January 31, 2024)

Flat tire | So after surviving four hours on a ridiculous bu… | Flickr

CREDIT: AHLN on Flickr

Dear Children of God,

All of us know things. We’ve read books, gone to school, learned from friends. But just knowing something isn’t the same as knowing how to use it. For example, a lot of people might know that one uses a jack to lift a car to change a flat tire. But do they know how to use the jack to lift the car to change a flat tire? Just knowing a jack lifts a car doesn’t enable you to use it to do so – unless you know how. “Know-how” is more important than “know.”

What goes for jacks also goes for Jesus. While knowing of Jesus is a good first step in a life of faith, it is nowhere near the end. We see a good example of this when Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man in a synagogue. The demon cries out to Jesus, “What have You to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24) This demon knows a lot about Jesus … His hometown – Nazareth. His mission – destroy evil. Who He is – God’s Holy One. Good facts to know, but more important is using knowledge to have faith in Jesus and His ability to save you from the eternal effects of the evil one – the sins Satan tempts us into committing and the eternal separation from God Satan hopes to achieve.

Jesus, by His death on the cross destroys the evil one – as His Father in heaven sent Him to do. By destroying the evil one, Jesus destroys his ability to eternally separate us from our heavenly Father – paying the price needed to free us from sin’s power to separate us from God by enabling us to be forgiven. Thus forgiven, every time we sin and confess our sins to God, we’re cleansed, made righteous, and joined with Jesus in the eternal kingdom of God. It’s good to know this so we can trust God as we call on Him in all things.

                                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Hear AND Listen (January 17, 2024)

CREDIT: DALL-E 3 AI

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Hearing … and listening – they are different. We hear all the time. A sound wave hits your ear; your brain processes the wave into noise – even when we aren’t thinking about it. Listening, however, is entirely different. Listening is “giving your attention to the noise you hear.” It’s a conscious decision to listen. 

One of the themes of God’s word this time of year is “listening” … versus simply “hearing” and then moving on. A good example is Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah heard God tell him, “Go to Ninevah and tell them how evil they are!” Jonah knew God wanted Israel’s evil enemies to know Him so He could save them. But rather than listen to God and go, Jonah fled from God – right into the whale’s belly. (Jonah 1)

So, God spoke to Jonah again saying, “I’m serious! Go to Ninevah and tell them how evil they are!” This time Jonah … listened. Jonah paid attention to God and did what God told him to do. And what do you know?! Ninevah turned from its evil and God saved them. (Jonah 3) Because Jonah listened, God spared the lives of over 120,000 people. Listening is important!

Thankfully people like Peter and Andrew, James and John listened when God called them to follow Him and become “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-20) Because they listened to Jesus, today the word of God is heard all around the world – including in our own ears. But here’s the question … are we just hearing – like Jonah … or are we also listening – like those first apostles Jesus called?

If we’re just hearing, know this – God is relentless, and He’ll keep speaking to us by the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through those who have listened. I pray you’ll turn from being a hearer of God to a listener. And if you are listening, I pray you then take the next step and become a doer of God’s word. That others may also come to faith, repent, and be saved.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

Because I Can - Should I? (January 17, 2024)

File:What should I do?.png - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: Pixabay

Dear Disciples of Christ,

I can – if I want – eat a whole box of ice cream. I can – if I want – binge watch as many episodes of Yellowstone as I’d like. I can – if I want – indulge myself in whatever fantasy I might desire. But just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. 

This belief we can do whatever we want because we can isn’t a new affliction. It goes back to the beginning. After all, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil wasn’t locked away; protected by swinging swords, lightning bolts, and fire. It was in the middle of the garden. Adam and Eve could eat it any time they wanted. But just because they could, didn’t mean they should. In fact, God told them they shouldn’t – and if they did, they’d die. But it looked so good. What harm could possibly come from a bite? So – they ate. And the rest is history. (Genesis 3)

God, our creator, knows exactly what He created us to do … and how to do it. He’s given us all access to gifts He expects us to use. But … not to abuse by using them in ways that bring harm to us or others. God doesn’t leave us guessing. He tells us how to use the gifts He’s given us.

Yet, like Adam and Eve, too many think having access to something enables us to use it as we see fit. Especially if that gift brings us pleasure. But God warns us against misusing His gifts, “All things are lawful … but not all things are helpful,” (1 Corinthians 6:12)– “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” Then He hits on two items that often draw us into sin – food and sex. Both, used as God intended, serve godly purposes. But when abused, they lead to sin and death. Fortunately, by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, He forgives us for our penchant to do whatever we can … even when we shouldn’t. Thank You God for Your patient grace and mercy.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

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