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That's Not Fair (October 20, 2020)

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Dear Laborers in Christ,

I was the oldest child. Now and then, my younger siblings would say, “That’s not fair!” whenever I received extra privileges. However, in my opinion, “Of course it’s fair! I’m the oldest!” Fairness is subjective. What’s fair to one doesn’t always seem fair to another. Most of us believe we should get what we deserve. So, when we feel we’ve been cheated in some way, “That’s not fair!”

In the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus tells us about some laborers whose idea of fairness follows the world’s perspective. The master of the house hires laborers to work in his field throughout the day. The laborers hired at daybreak agree to work for a denarius, the standard daily wage for a laborer in Jesus’ day. At the end of the day, the master pays everyone, including those hired for only one hour, a denarius. The laborers hired at daybreak say, “That’s not fair! We worked all day long! We should get more!” The master reminds them that they agreed to work in his field for a denarius. He gives them exactly what he promised them. In his grace, he’s entitled to give as he sees fit.

The parable tells how God rewards His faithful workers. He calls people throughout their lives to work in His vineyard. The work involves living faithful lives from the time God calls us until we die. No matter when we faithfully answer the call – early or late in life, the reward is the same for every faithful child of God – eternal life in heaven; even though we don’t deserve it. We’re given our eternal denarius because of what God does to us and for us. God finds us – standing around. He calls us – to work for Him. He provides for us – all we need. It doesn’t matter if we faithfully respond to Him for decades, days, or less – only that we’re faithful to the end. Then, because of our faith in Jesus, He gives us all the same eternal denarius – eternal life.

Your Fellow Laborer,

                                                                      Pastor Jim

Fandom in the Kingdom of Heaven (October 7, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Fans” are steadfast, devoted followers of teams, artists, or public figures. But fanaticism can become so strong that fans begin to exclude others from their circle of friends simply because they’re fans of the wrong thing – even if everything else about them indicates they should be friends! With football season starting, it’s possible Washington Football Club fans and Cowboys fans won’t be speaking for a while. I’m glad a guy I know became friends with me before I found out he was a Yankee fan – other than that, he’s a great guy!

Extreme fandom, while creating unity between those dedicated to their favorite cause also creates division, or worse. This even happens in God’s church. Very ugly division has cropped up over things that don’t truly matter when it comes to our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet sinful people let these things – known as “adiaphora” (things neither commanded nor prohibited by God’s Word) – divide the church. But God’s Word warns us against division based on these things – for example, the food we eat (or won’t eat), days we hold important (or don’t) (Romans 14:2-6). What matters in areas of adiaphora is the reason for fanaticism. If it’s directed at honoring the Lord, Jesus Christ, and doesn’t divide us, that’s okay. Paul writes, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)

So, whether we worship with organs and choirs – or drums and guitars, fancy robes and paraments – or jeans and t-shirts, strict liturgy – or free flowing words and music … it’s not about the worship style or method. It’s all about the Cross of Christ – devoting ourselves to Him and, with all our hearts, minds, and souls, believing in what He did there to bring us into His heavenly kingdom. I’m a fan of that.       

In Christ,

                                                                     Pastor Jim

Heavenly Politics (September 23, 2020)

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Dear First Family and Friends,

This isn’t a Twilight Zone trailer. Imagine for a moment – a political season where the opponents lived in harmony, didn’t repay mudslinging with more mudslinging, lived peaceably with each other, and didn’t try to get revenge. Instead of berating the opponent and leaving me with hardly a clue as to what their actual ideas were; they would simply tell me their ideas. Wouldn’t it be a nice change if politicians respected one another as servants desiring to serve their common man, even if they didn’t agree with the ways they proposed to serve?

We might laugh at the improbability of such a campaign. However, I think this is the kind of campaign God calls His people to participate in. Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … Repay no one evil for evil … live peaceably with all … never avenge yourselves.” (Romans 12:14, 17-19) Paul urges Christians, don’t be vindictive towards those who oppose you, but rather try to live peaceably with all, including those who persecute us. He isn’t saying to give in when we disagree or encounter falsehoods as lies spread. But we’re to disagree or counter falsehood without striving for revenge and judgement. God calls on us to love our enemies while gently, calmly making our case – even to the point of caring for their basic human needs of food and drink. God calls on us to love and let Him repay evil with His vengeance and wrath (Romans 12:19-20).

As Jesus suffered the ultimate persecution on the cross, He showed us how this looks in its most extreme form. He didn’t try to get revenge on those who nailed Him to the cross. He forgave them. We may not agree with those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. But we can respect them as creatures who are also made in God’s image. Then we can gently, humbly, lovingly work to show them the love of Christ. All the while continuing to love them even as we disagree.

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Holy Rocks (September 16, 2020)

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CREDIT: Vintage News Daily

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Artists amaze me! They see things many of us miss. Then, using their gifts, they bring imagination to reality. Sculptors, whose medium is solid rock, are a good example. Where you and I see a rock, they see something else. And then, one swing of a hammer on a chisel at a time, sculptors carve away excess, useless pieces of rock to reveal the object of their imagination.

We are individual works of art who make up God’s people, the kingdom of believers. If we forget this, God reminds us, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” (Isaiah 51:1) Like the master sculptor chips away at a rock one swing at a time, even God began creating His nation one person at a time. He selected one person, Abraham, to build His nation of believers. Through him, along with Sarah, God created a nation of priests, a kingdom of believers. Using His people God chips away, one swing at a time, bringing His promises of forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all mankind.

Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith … we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) We are individual works of art sculpted by our Father into the Body of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He chips away our sinful pieces of flesh to reveal His intended creation. He handcrafts each of us; giving us unique gifts He longs to use to bring others into His kingdom. Paul encourages us saying, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12:6) God has given each of us gifts – service, teaching, encouraging, leading, and so on. Let’s let God use us, like a hammer and chisel, to sculpt others into His people also. That they too might be joined to us - the Body of Christ.

                                                                                                        In God’s Peace,

                                                                                                                Pastor Jim

Good to be a Foreigner (September 9, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A “foreigner” is defined as “a person not belonging to a particular place or group; a stranger or outsider.”  Most of us don’t think we’re “foreigners.” If we go overseas, then we might consider ourselves foreigners for a time.  But, when we return, we’re home again. – and no longer foreigners. Or are we?

Consider Isaiah’s words to us. He writes “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:1-2) This is a Christian’s life.  How does a life lived like this square with the life the world around us often espouses?  For example, when we live by “keeping the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeping our hands from doing any evil” we live counter to our culture.  This makes us “strangers or outsiders” in the world – foreigners.

“Keeping the Sabbath and not profaning it” means more than attending worship on Sunday or Wednesday.  It involves truly trusting God and His provision. Keeping the Sabbath honors God by recognizing all we have comes from Him.  We earn a paycheck or good grades because He’s given us knowledge, skills, and abilities.  We use these gifts at work or school in accordance with His will.  When we understand He’s the source of all we have, we know and trust He provides us whatever we truly need.  This absolute trust in God and His provision frees us to refrain from evil – coveting, unhealthy desiring, and hoarding God’s provisions.  We’re freed by this trust to give our time, talent, and treasure to serve God and His creation.  We don’t worry that we’ll run short. We trust God will provide. 

So, it’s good to be a foreigner – one freed to trust God and do His will – to love Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds and to love our neighbors as He loves us.

                                                                                In God’s Peace,

                                                                               Pastor Jim

Help (September 3, 2020)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I can’t help myself, I call out to someone else. I race through my mental contact list to figure out who to call on – searching for a name. For example, when my refrigerator was acting up the other day, I knew Kevin had insight into appliances, so I called him. When I call someone to help me out, I need to know their name – so I can address my call in the right direction to get their attention – and that they can actually help me.

Things around the home often break down. When they do, we usually call an expert for help. However, spoiled milk caused by a broken refrigerator, while inconvenient, isn’t the end of the world. There is a situation that is the end of the world – Jesus’ return. When He returns, He will find a very broken world filled with broken people. Too often these people are trying to fix their own brokenness – unsuccessfully – which leads to the ultimate brokenness which is death and eternal separation from God. 

But there is one person we can call on to fix us, to save us from our sin and the brokenness and eternal death it causes. Paul tells us who to address our call to saying, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) The problem for many is they don’t know the name of the one that can save them from their brokenness. How can they if they never hear about Him?

Our Father calls on us to spread the name of Jesus everywhere. That by hearing, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they might come to believe in Jesus. You and I are privileged to be the means God uses to communicate saving promises to a broken world. God sends us into the world to proclaim His good news so all can hear and come to believe. And God commends us saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:16) 

In the Love of Christ,

Pastor Jim

Filling a Vacuum (August 26, 2020)

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Dear First Family and Friends,

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” Wherever an empty space exists, it’s natural for something to try filling it. “Boredom” is a vacuum of the mind. When we’re bored, we try to fill the boredom with something, anything! Billy Graham noted that Americans must be among the most bored people in the world. Unable to fill our own time, he noted Americans spend huge amounts of money to pay others to fill our time for us. Most often, after spending the money to fill the vacuum, we’re not satisfied. Then we search for something else to fill the vacuum.

God, through His prophet Isaiah, asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2a) Then He answers His own question, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant… (Isaiah 55:2b-3) God knows we long to fill this hole in our lives. He knows we try to fill it with things which can’t possibly satisfy. He knows we’re trying to fill a “God-shaped hole” in our lives with things of a different shape. It may look like a good fit initially. However, over time, we come to find out – it doesn’t fit. Only God can fill this hole in our lives.

Using images of physical hunger and thirst, God encourages us to rely on Him to fill the vacuums in our lives. Quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger, not with material, earthly things – which simply wear out – leading to continued thirst and hunger. Instead, fill yourself with God’s Word and His promises. Let God transform your appetite, enabling you to finally be satisfied as you live out the life He has given you – doing the work He has called you to do with the gifts He has blessed you with to do them. Then, you will be eternally filled.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim

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