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No Place to Hide (September 11, 2019)

selective focus photo of woman hiding on green and brown leafed plant

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Faith,

C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, is one of my favorite writers. He also wrote a number of essays on various aspects of Christianity. In my opinion, he’s one of the great thinkers on theology in recent times. A famous quote on “integrity” is often attributed to him, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” It reminds me of a story I read in one of my devotions, where a young boy rushed out of the house for school. His mom asked if he brushed his teeth. His response, “You should get a video camera for the bathroom so you can check for yourself … and I wouldn’t be tempted to lie.” The camera might remind us to follow the rules. But we can still fool ourselves into thinking that just because nobody saw it … it’s okay.

God works through HIS prophet Jeremiah to warn His people about false prophets running rampant in their midst. God warns that just because someone says they’re a prophet, doesn’t mean they’re HIS God’s prophet. They may say, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” (Jeremiah 23:25) but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He also says, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.” (Jeremiah 23:28) Nevertheless, these false prophets were inspiring people to turn away from God. They, and the people, were hiding behind what they imagined was truth. But God asks rhetorically, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:24)

While a person may think they can hide their sinful deeds from other people … what others don’t know won’t hurt them … they can’t hide from God. God is, among other things, “omnipresent” and “omniscient.” He is everywhere and knows everything (Jeremiah 16:17, Psalm 139:1-4).

On the one hand, this is terrifying … there’s no place I can run, there’s no darkness I can act in, there’s no rock I can hide behind where God cannot see what I do or find me. I may be able to hide from my mom, but I can’t hide from God. That’s terrifying.

But … it’s also comforting. First, God doesn’t hide from us. He can be found anytime, anywhere. Where? He tells us, “But let him who has my Word speak my Word faithfully.” (Jeremiah 23:28) If we want to know what God wants from us … and more importantly, what He does for us … go to the source. Go to His Word! Second, our Father knows it’s hard to turn away from false prophets who get in our face and tell us what we want to hear … what makes us feel good. That’s why He warns us with His Word and sent His Son, Jesus to suffer and die for us and rise to new life – freed from sin and death. Just as God is always present when we’re running from Him … He’s also always present, patiently waiting for us to repent and confess our sins, to forgive us unconditionally. Thank God we cannot hide ourselves from Him!

                                                                        In Faith,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

The Hall of Fame (September 4, 2019)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Faith,

One of the things I like about baseball, is how it uses statistics to determine who’s the best. The very best make it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY. Those enshrined are called “baseball immortals” …Clemente, Jackie, Frank, and Brooks Robinson, The Babe and Hammerin’ Hank, the Splendid Splinter and Joltin’ Joe, and Satchel Paige. But, in the end, the “immortality” exists in lifeless bronze busts with some words celebrating the person’s achievements. True immortality … eternal life … doesn’t exist in any earthly Hall of Fame.

However, there’s one Hall of Fame where true immortality does exist. In Hebrews 11 God’s Word immortalizes those who lived lives of exemplary faith in the one true God … the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrews lists out some of those who, by faith, “received their commendation” (Hebrews 11:2) from God, who rewarded them with admission into the “Hall of Faith.”

“Faith” is defined here as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This means that one must believe based on a promise alone … there is no proof, no concrete evidence, no scientific explanation behind the promise. The only thing supporting the promise is … the Word of the one, true God. Noah didn’t build the Ark because God showed him a 40-day forecast of any kind … he did it because he took God at His Word. He trusted God and did what God told him to do … as crazy as it seemed. Abraham didn’t pack up the family fortune in livestock and move thousands of miles to Canaan in his 70s because God showed him pictures of this beautiful land … he did it because he took God at His Word. He trusted God. And the “Hall of Faith” goes on … from Abel to David, Samuel and the prophets. These people of faith are enshrined in the “Hall of Faith.” But their enshrinement isn’t based on what they did … it’s based on what God did. They simply believed Him.

God sent Jesus … fully God, fully man … into the world to live like everyone noted above, except for sin. Jesus the perfectly sinless God-Man was God’s answer to the promise He made to all dating back to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15). Because Jesus lived perfectly, died on the cross, and then rose from the dead three days later, the effects of sin, death, and the devil have been destroyed. And all who live by faith, will be enshrined in the “Hall of Faith” … the eternal kingdom of heaven. You and I, baptized children of our Father believe … our faith in the work of His only Son is our ticket into the “Hall of Faith.” There, we won’t see lifeless bronze statues commemorating the faithful … we’ll actually join with and see men and women from across the ages living exactly as our Father, the creator of all things, intended. Rejoice in God’s promises to you … men and women of faith … you’re in the ultimate “Hall of Fame” the “Hall of Faith” … the kingdom of heaven.

                                                                        In Faith,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

New Clothes (August 20, 2019)


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Dear Saints,

I’m thankful for a lot of things. One – I’m not part of the Royal Family. They’re expected to get dressed up … all the time! Not just for fancy dinners or dances or church, but all the time. Recently Meghan, Duchess of Sussex made some unflattering headlines because she wore blue jeans into the Royal Box at Wimbledon. However, I will admit there are times when I don’t mind dressing up. It’s a process, but when it’s all finished, someone might compliment me saying, “Wow! You clean up pretty nice!”

St. Paul often uses “getting dressed up” imagery to make a point about Christian life. He says, “(Don’t act like you used to), seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10) As Christians, sometimes we might have a tendency to look at our lives and think not much has changed. How come I’m still falling into sin … still get angry … still have bad thoughts? How come I can’t seem to “put to death what is earthly in (me)?” (Colossians 3:5) Well, God has some words of comfort for you … read carefully Colossians 3:9-10.

Unlike the process of getting ready for the Prom … or a Wedding … or some other big, fancy occasion, we “put on the new self” instantly when God clothes us in His righteousness in baptism. In that instant, we become a new creation, a child of God … but that’s only the beginning of our new life. Paul’s grammar reflects this fact for us. The “putting on” has been completed. It’s a finished action. However, the result of the “putting on” … “is being renewed.” Renewal is a constantly on-going process, it takes time. And, what’s more, we’re not the one’s doing the renewing. The Holy Spirit, dwelling in us since the time of our baptisms, when the new self was put on us, is the one renewing us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, as we hear God’s Word, knowledge from above – not from other men and the world – transforms us over time into the image of God, our creator (Colossians 3:1-2,10).

It’s hard to see this renewal taking place in the moment. However, if we take an honest look back at our lives and compare where we were at one time and where we are today in our walks of faith, I’m willing to bet we can see this renewal taking shape. As we look back, we can see “earthly” things we have, by power of the Holy Spirit, “put to death” (Colossians 3:5) which no longer animate us, excite us, move us. Are there still earthly things that do move us? Yes, but the Holy Spirit dwelling in us also moves us to ask God for forgiveness … and God forgives us … at the same time the Holy Spirit is putting those things to death too. Then, one day, we’ll become the image of our creator in fullness. “(We) will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4) That’s a promise from our Father in heaven to each of us who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.

                                                               In Christ’s Love,

                                                               Pastor Jim

Divine Surgery (August 13, 2019)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Many of us have experienced “going under the knife.” It hurts to remove something causing pain, injury, or worse. A while back I had skin cancer cut from my nose. It hurt. But, now it’s gone. However, if I want to keep it away, I need to change some of my behavior. So, each day, no matter what, I put the SPF 100 on my face to ward off further damage.

In God’s Word, we hear about divine surgery God does to His people eHe He . “Circumcision” wasn’t done to remove a harmful growth … rather God commanded it to mark His chosen people as His own. But, like my surgery, the circumcision, a visible reminder of God’s grace, also required action to remain God’s child. Being circumcised wasn’t an end … rather, it was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to living, in thanks to God for His grace, as a child of God by fearing, loving, and trusting Him in all things … over and above all things.

Unfortunately, people came to see their “circumcision” and other actions they did as good works needed to earn God’s grace. By their logic, those who didn’t do these things weren’t worthy to receive God’s grace. This type of belief, formed in the minds of man by their own logic, is called “works righteousness” … being made right with God through personal effort. God told His people, through the Apostle Paul, this belief is wrong. Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy … human tradition … the spirits of the world …” rather hear God’s Word through His Son, Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Paul continued, “In (Christ) also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” (Colossians 2:11) Today, we’re still circumcised, however, it’s not a visible, physical circumcision. Rather, we’re spiritually circumcised in our baptisms. In baptism, the Spirit circumcises our hearts. The deadly disease we call “sin,” is rendered helpless against us through faith in Christ. In God’s promise to hear our confession of sins, the effects of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) are cut away. God’s Word says we’re “dead in our sins” … but through His Son Jesus’ sacrifice, He’s made us alive, “having forgiven us all our sins.” (Colossians 2:13)

However, this circumcision of the heart in our baptisms does more than simply give us faith and forgiveness of sin. The Holy Spirit begins to change our behavior – turning us away from sin and turning us toward God. Like a surgeon removes deadly cancer, God performs divine surgery, through the Holy Spirit, to cleanse us from sin and its effects. Then, compelled by the Spirit, we begin to hear God’s Word, allowing it guide and direct us. Guided and directed by the Holy Spirit, our desire to do God’s will grows and enlarges … as our desire to sin shrinks. Through this process, called “sanctification,” the Spirit gradually makes us holy children of God. The cancer of sin is removed and new life takes hold as never before. In faith, we let God do His divine surgery that we may live as He intended for us to live.

                                                                                    In Christ,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Divine Appointments (August 7, 2019)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Usually when I need to see someone, or they need to see me, we’ll check our calendars. Then we’ll make an appointment. Later, we’ll get together for whatever the topic is. This practice helps organize our time … keeping us from overloading our schedules with too many things to do and not enough time to do them. But sometimes things happen. The schedule gets adjusted by unexpected visitors. Some might call these unexpected visits “interruptions.” I’ve learned, by the grace of God, to call them “divine appointments” – meetings God has set up to either help me or for me to be used by Him to help someone else. I treasure divine appointments.

God works through His divine appointment book.  Abraham was among the first to receive such an appointment when God called him to be the father of His people (Genesis 12). And this wasn’t the last of Abraham’s appointments with God. I imagine it was a hot summer day in what’s now the country of Israel as Abraham relaxed after a hard workday. Suddenly three guys show up unexpectedly from out of nowhere. Another divine appointment. Rather than get frustrated that his schedule has been busted by these visitors, Abraham stopped what he was doing to tend to their needs. He made sure his guests were comfortable, had plenty of food and drink, and listened to what they had to say. In this divine appointment, God let Abraham and Sarah, an elderly couple well past the age when they’d receive their first Social Security check, know some very good news … they’re finally going to be parents! (Genesis 18:1-14) It’s a good thing they didn’t ignore this divine appointment.

The divine appointments between God and His people continued. Over two thousand years later, a young girl named Mary had one. Mary stopped what she was doing and listened to her visitor, the angel Gabriel. He told Mary she’d be the mother of God’s only Son, Jesus – the Savior of God’s creation.

And the divine appointments continue today. We may not have the Angel of the Lord appearing at our front door … or Gabriel coming to our house as we’re watching our favorite show or reading a book. But God shows up in our lives through divine appointments throughout our lives. When we keep our appointment to come into God’s house for worship, God comes into our presence through His Word and Holy Communion. When we keep our appointments during the week, God comes into our presence as we study His Word in our daily devotions and our prayers. In these appointments, He may cause us to think of someone we haven’t thought of in ages … or maybe an image bothers us by hanging around our minds as we study and pray. These could very well be follow-up divine appointments God is calling us to make with Him. He uses prayer and His Word to schedule our time to do His will in the world – acting as His hands and feet – or to receive His corrective love. We receive His blessing to serve those He calls us to serve … or to be served by those He puts into our lives in His divine appointments.

                                                                                    In the Love of Christ,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Statues or Statutes? (July 24, 2019)


Dear Saints,

One of my enduring memories is a tour I took of the Louvre in Paris. I saw many famous statues I’d only seen in pictures … for example, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo. It was amazing to see how the artist was able to take a piece of rock and make it look so life-like. Of course, when looking at Winged Victory without its head or Venus without her arms, you realize they’re just statues … life-like maybe, but not alive.

The Book of Leviticus follows Exodus chronologically. After God gives His Law, the Ten Commandments to Moses and Israel on Mount Sinai, He gives Moses a more detailed explanation of what these commandments entail as Israel prepares to put Egypt fully behind themselves and enter the Promised Land, currently occupied by the Canaanites. Leviticus begins by telling Israel how they’re to come near to God in worship through atonement for sin. Then, beginning in Chapter 17, God tells His people how they’re to live holy lives, according to His Word, in response to His grace. God has selected them as His children. As part of His family, God lays out how they’re to act. And it’s much differently than the Egyptians they’ve lived amongst for over 300 years and the Canaanites they’re going to be living amongst. They’d worship a true, living God who could hear them, act for them, live among them, and keep them in His presence forever … as long as they responded to His love by showing their love and trust for Him alone. Unlike the gods of Egypt and Canaan, mere statues created by other men … the true God was, is, and always will be living and active in His creation … ruling it in accordance with His statutes found in His Word. Israel was warned, “I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:4b-5) Live by statues … or statutes?

Statues, inanimate creations of man, built to represent man’s ideas about what a god might be, are incapable of doing anything. But they were the guides Egyptians and Canaanites trusted in. They may appear life-like, but they aren’t alive. Instead, inspired by Satan, these idols, and the ideas they represent, lead one away from trusting the one true God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Living by statues, leads one to become statue-like … eternally dead.

The one true God is alive! He makes things happen! God wants His people, and all people to be alive … like He is. Unlike Ra, Baal, or Molech, our living God descended into our lives to free us from the power of Satan – sin and death. Jesus, lived among us … suffered and died for us … and rose to new life to save us from sin and death, bringing us forgiveness and eternal life. Living, in response to God the Father’s love for us, by His statutes found in His living Word, leads all who believe in His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to eternal life. Thanks be to our ever-living God … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

                                                                                    In Christ,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Living in the Present (July 18, 2019)


Dear Friends in Christ,

Funny thing about “time” … as human beings we live in “the now.” Yet we often dwell on the past … achievements and defeats. This can lead us to a false sense of pride … or an improper sense of doom. We might also frequently dream of the future. While planning is important, too much focus on what we think the future holds can also lead us astray ... into a false sense of security or overblown anxiety. You can’t change the past … and, for the most part, you can’t control the future. We can, however, act in the present.

This has always been a problem for people … including God’s prophets and disciples. In 1 Kings 19:9-21, we see how Elijah suffered from an overblown sense of his own abilities as he reflected on the amazing past he was part of (1 Kings 17-18). When things didn’t appear to be going the way Elijah envisioned, he became very depressed … to the point of wanting to quit and die. Elijah expected God’s people to repent and come back to God. Instead, Queen Jezebel put out a contract on Elijah’s head and God’s people continued rebelling against Him. Elijah thought he knew, based on the past, what the future should look like. With an unexpected whisper, God let’s Elijah know things would be different – just not what Elijah expected. God encouraged Elijah to stick to His plan, trust Him and follow Him in faith. Don’t let the past dictate the future, and don’t invent your own version of the future. Let God lead through His Word.

In Luke 9:51-62, Jesus has similar words for His disciples. James and John, the Sons of Thunder, want to destroy the Samaritans rejecting them. But Jesus has mercy. James and John don’t see the future Jesus sees, when the Samaritans will be subjected to God’s mercy … mercy that wouldn’t possible if they were destroyed today. Others misread the future too. They want to follow Jesus, envisioning glory in the court of a mighty king. Jesus reminds them, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58) Following Him would require hardship in this life. It would also require them to let go of their past achievements and even family ties if they cause a distraction to the mission at hand. He reminds them that you can’t plow in straight, ordered lines if you’re always looking backward, away from the work you’re supposed to be doing (Luke 9:62).

While it’s fine to remember the past and good to plan for the future, it’s critical we spend our present firmly tied into God’s will for us through daily study of His Word. In the still, small voice of His Word, God tells us what He wants us to do and where to do it. As we see what He’s calling us to do … and not do … in prayer, we ask Him to help us live by His Word. This is how we live totally and completely trusting God. He leads us, energizes us, and keeps us from getting discouraged as, today, we do His will in His creation.

                                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim