January 17, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 49-50; Psalm 17; Matthew 17; 1 Corinthians 1

Something hit me this morning as I was reading 1 Corinthians 1.  I always focus on Paul’s message to the Corinthians as being a Pastoral chew out session.  For most of the book, Paul is dressing down the Corinthians for infighting, sexual sin, and other problems.

But this morning, it hit me that in the very first section of the book, Paul gives the solution to the problem.  It surprised me when I realized what Paul was really saying.

In Verse 4, Paul starts out with Grace.  Grace is the gift that God has given that destroys all of our problems.  It wipes out our guilt and shame in one fell swoop.  It is the gift that Jesus freely provides for us.  It strengthens us, kills our despair, and sets us on a path towards God.

In Verse 5, Paul tells us that we have been enriched.  Webster’s dictionary defines the word, Enrich this way:

“to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient” Websters Dictionary

Not only has God given us Grace, he then enriches our lives.  We can now see the beauty around us in our world.  We can now see other people as children of the living God.  We can now live with joy, knowing that our Savior has paid the price for us.  He has ransomed us from the dead.  We can live a full life, knowing that this world is not the end.  It is only the beginning.

In Verse 6, Paul tells us that we have been strengthened by God.  In those moments of weakness, it is no longer our strength that gets us through.  It is God’s strength as he carries us through the challenges of this world.  We no longer have to be able to run the marathon ourselves because God is lifting us up and helping us over each and every hill.

In Verse 7, Paul tells us that we have already received gifts from God.  He has poured out spiritual Gifts on each one of us.  He has given us the gifts we will need to be a blessing to the world around us.

In Verse 8, Paul tells us that we have this as a promise from God.  God has promised that he will get us to the end.  God will carry us across the finish line.  He won’t let anything get in our way as we move forward in this life.

In Verse 9, Paul concludes by tellings us that God is faithful.  He keeps his word.  God can’t lie because that is against his very nature.  He called us and will never let us fall out of fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter what our problems and our difficulties, God is faithful.  He is our protector and our Savior.  He is the one who will be with us now and every day throughout our lives.

January 16, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 46-48; Psalm 16; Matthew 16; Romans 16

What do you think Jesus means when he says that people must “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” in Matthew 16:24?

Is Jesus saying that we have to sell our possessions and move into a monastery?  I don’t think so.

Do you think Jesus is suggesting that we should never save any money and that we should give everything we have to the poor?  Not if we take his earlier rebuke to the Pharisees in consideration.

So what is he saying here?

What Jesus is saying is this, he wants to be first in our lives.  He won’t play second fiddle.  He wants our total allegiance, love, and loyalty.

Jesus wants us to behave like we truly do love God above everything else in our lives.  Jesus actually does mean it when he says that he wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves even when it hurts.

Jesus wants us to be devoted to living that life out of gratitude for what he did on our behalf.  Our lives should be about something greater than ourselves.  It should be about serving one another and loving God above all else.

That is the Cross Jesus is asking us to carry!

January 15, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 43-45; Psalm 15; Matthew 15; Romans 15

In Romans 15, Paul talks about the strong putting up with the failings of the week.  Let me give you an example of an experience I had with an individual who missed the mark that Paul was talking about.

Years ago, I was attending a small Saturday morning Men’s Bible Study.  When I say small, it was me, the Pastor, and the gentleman who had initially started the group, whom I’ll call, “the founder.”  We would continuously complain about the fact that we were the only ones attending.

After weeks of asking, I was finally able to get three other men to attend one Saturday morning.

Things were going great that morning.  We shared our thoughts on the scripture we were reading.  Our guests were laughing and enjoying themselves. There was the obligatory good-natured ribbing.

Everything was going great until “the founder” decided to pepper our new arrivals with questions.  The Founder decided to show off his bible knowledge and spiritual wisdom.  The Pastor attempted to real him back in and redirect the study back to where we started, but “The Founder” would have none of it.  He kept hammering away, verse after verse,  continuing to show off his vast knowledge.

Two of the three men would never come back.

I was fuming.

I confronted “The Founder” after the meeting.  I asked him what he thought he was doing.  “The Founder” then told me that he wanted to limit the group to only those men who were “spiritually mature.”  No amount of talking to this man would change his mind.

Needless to say, “The Founder” wound up being lonely when the rest of the group exited, and he was the only one left on Saturday morning.

You see, “The Founder” wanted to build an exclusive group.  A group that didn’t reach out.  A group that benefited only himself.

The truth of Romans 15 is that Paul is telling us to use our knowledge of the Word of God to build others up and to help others become stronger disciples of Jesus Christ.

January 14, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 40-42; Psalm 14; Matthew 14; Romans 14

In Matthew 14 vs. 22-33, we see the famous story of Jesus walking on water.  Now, most people like to focus on Peter. They like to focus on getting out of the boat and maintaining a strong faith through the storms.

However, I wonder if maybe there is another side to the story?

In the world we live in today, storms seem to be never-ending.  Let’s look at the past couple of weeks as an example.

  1. Britain is leaving the EU, causing much worry about trade and the European economy, which will no doubt have an impact on the United States Economy.
  2. China has cracked down on Hong Kong.  They have also begun, once again, to arrest religious minorities, including giving 9 years in prison to a Christian Pastor.
  3. Israeli elections had to be voided because no one could form a government.
  4. The House of Representatives voted to Impeach the President
  5. Iranian protestors, sponsored by Iranian groups, attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad.
  6. An American Contractor was killed, and a few US Servicemen injured in Iraq during the protests.
  7. Our government ordered a Drone Strike and killed an Iranian General and 5 others.
  8. The Iranians launched a missile strike on US Personnel in Iraq.
  9. The House and the Senate are fighting over impeachment articles.  No other work seems to be getting done.
  10. Democratic candidates seem to be imploding on the campaign trail.
  11. Locally, a series of bomb threats were made against several businesses in Marian, IL.

Yep, if you looked at everything going on, it would be easy to fall into despair.  Let’s not forget that the average person also has to worry about paying their bills, dealing with rising health care costs, paying taxes, and taking care of their families.

Every day brings non-stop stress and anxiety.  For many, it never seems to end.   The truth is that, like Peter, there are times in life when we all sink.  There are times in life when our faith takes a beating from the storms of life.  Moments when we wonder where God is.  Instances when all hope seems to be lost.

It’s in those exact moments when the Holy Spirit rushes into the rescue.  When we have no strength left and the waters are pouring over our head.  In those moments, when we have no strength left, Jesus reaches his hand out and grabs us.  He pulls us out of the storm and puts us back safely into the boat.

Our faith is going to waver.  That’s life.  But Jesus promises that in those moments when our faith waivers, he will grab our hand and pull us back to the safety of Jesus’ presence.

January 13, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 37-39; Psalm 13; Matthew 13; Romans 13

Have you ever known someone angry with God because of some personnel trauma?  Have you tried to reason with that person?  Maybe you tried to comfort that person?  There is a scene in the movie Forest Gump, where Gary Sinise’s character, Lieutenant Dan, is sitting in the crows’ nest of Forest’s shrimping boat screaming at God during a hurricane.

People in pain often lash out at God.  They question him and demand an answer.  But all they get in response is silence.

Maybe that’s you?

Maybe you’re the one wondering why these things have happened to you.

Often, we are faced with situations that we do not understand.  Why God takes a person who is young or why he chooses to allow evil to happen.  We can’t figure out why we have wars.  It’s unimaginable why he would allow homelessness, abortion, rape, and murder to exist.  Like Job, we don’t understand why there are sickness, death, and disease.

We wonder why God allows such things.

David felt it as well.  You can hear the pain and anguish in the words of Psalm 13.  The agony he is feeling seems almost unbearable.

Yet, in the end, David grabs hold of the promises of God and won’t let go.

Our faith journey isn’t always going to be easy.  Many of us will face trials and tribulations.  We will struggle with the great “why’s” of life.  We will endure pain.  It’s all part of our human existence.  There may even be times when experiencing pain will be almost impossible.

It is in those moments that we hold onto God.  At those times, we hold onto Jesus and his promises.  We lay hold of his feet and don’t let go.  These are the moments when our faith is truly tested.

In these moments, we should listen to David’s Words in Psalm 13:5-6:

“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (NRSV)

January 12, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 34-36; Psalm 12; Matthew 12; Romans 12

You don’t hear much about mercy these days.

We have lots of conversations about our rights and our freedoms.  We continuously talk about our desires.  We are quick to point out the sins of those we politically oppose.  We condemn those we disagree with.  We attack those who have a different point of view.  We love to see punishment and justice dispensed.

But mercy, not so much.

After World War I, the allied governments imposed harsh sanctions on Germany.  This led to Germany’s economic collapse during the great depression, which led to the rise of Adolph Hitler.

After World War II, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan, and rather than imposing harsh sanctions on Germany after the war, Germany was rebuilt.  Germany today is a peaceful nation.

Revenge and punishment brought the world to the most devastating war in human history.  Mercy and Grace brought one of the most prolonged periods of sustained peace in European history.

Mercy builds the bridge that separates two sides.  That very same Mercy revives the souls of the sinners and restores relationships.  It is Mercy that gives hope to the hopeless.

Mercy is what separates the Christian Religion from all others.  It is for Mercy’s sake that Jesus came to save us.  It was Mercy that revived our aching souls.  It is only Mercy that can end our political, religious, and personnel lives.

It is mercy that allows us to forgive the unforgivable and love the unloveable.

That is the mercy that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 12:7.

 

January 11, 2020

What I Read Today;

Genesis 31-33; Psalm 11; Matthew 11; Romans 11

I started playing baseball when I was nine years old.  I really loved the game.  From the ages of 10 to 12, I played for the same coach.  Ron tried to teach the game and make it fun at the same time.  I remember getting a double to tie a game and then scoring on a passed ball to win the game a few seconds later.  I remember Ron sprinting towards me with this huge grin on his face.  I really thought Ron was going to throw me to the moon when he lifted me off the ground.  Ron had a way of talking to you about your mistakes without making you feel like you were a terrible player.  He taught and coached the game as if you were his own child.

When I turned 13, I moved up to the Senior Division.

I was introduced to poor coaching in my first year.  The coach knew the game of baseball.  He had been an excellent player.  But it was all about him.  It was his ego that was driving the team.  If a player made a mistake, the coach acted like you were doing it to shame him.  This coach would scream at us for anything we did wrong.  He and his father berated anyone who made a mistake.  By midseason, we had fallen near the bottom of the league.  By the end of the year, I was ready to quit and never play again. Not one player made an all-star team that year.  The coach had nearly killed my love of the game.

Thankfully, the league stepped in that off-season and removed the coach and replaced him.  The coaches focused all their efforts on making the players better.  We knew they cared about us.  The new coach took the same group of players and came within 1 game of winning our conference.  Of the 12 players on the roster, 5 of us made the all-star team.

What a difference a leader makes.

People today are wandering around, looking for a leader.  The messages they’ve gotten are mixed at best.  Some screaming that the law must be fully obeyed.  Others shouting about a social gospel.  Others with a message of prosperity if you have enough faith.  They’ve seen ministers ask for donations so they can buy new airplanes.  They’ve seen others denounce divorce and then go through multiple spouses. It gets confusing after a while.  For some ministers, it’s become about themselves.  They neglect the people in the pews.

It sucks the love of Jesus out of many people.

Jesus was faced with this problem, as well.  He knew that the common man and woman walking the streets was struggling.  Arbitrary rules were added to God’s law and twisted to the point that the average person had no idea what salvation even looked like anymore.  Battered and confused, many withdrew from the church.  They couldn’t find comfort in the one place that should have brought happiness.  Church leaders were pointing out the people’s errors to make themselves look spiritually superior.

Jesus consistently condemned the spiritual elite.  He held nothing back in his condemnation of those who used the Church to make themselves look better than others.

Jesus reached out to those who had suffered spiritually.  Those who needed the sweet message of the Gospel of grace and forgiveness.

He reaches out to each one of them right now when we read these words:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  NRSV