April 15

  I got choked up on Sunday listening to Stuart Townshed’s song, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”  The thought that it was for me that Jesus had to suffer so much pain and agony is bringing tears to my eyes even now as I write this.  “It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished” is a sobering thought.  That kind of love was shown to someone so unlovely as I sinned and rebelled against him.  That is the only kind of love that could reconcile one like me to a Holy and Righteous God.  I could to nothing.  As another hymn reminds me, “Not for sins could I atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.”  And He did on that cruel cross at Calvary.  “Jesus was not murdered; He willingly laid down His life for us.  He was not a martyr [so we should not blame the Jews nor the Romans]; He was a willing sacrifice for the sins of the world” (Wiersbe 149).  Has He made a difference in your life?

April 8

Mark 14 has a lot in it.  And I hope you take the encouragement I gave Sunday to read and reread this important chapter that Mark has written.  Much of what Mark has been writing has its climax in this chapter.  His messianic claim is finally verbalized because now is the time for the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan to take place.  No need to “hide” His identity.  The teachings about his betrayal and death are coming to fruition.  Jesus gives his disciples his last words of encouragement and warning.  The gospel message (loving extravagantly) is seen in one last example from an unnamed woman.  And Jesus speaks and embodies living sacrificially.
  There are some quotes that I loved from the commentaries I read that I just could not fit into the message that I want to to think about as you read this chapter again.  Garland remarks in connection with the disciples sleeping in the garden a good connection with us, “Followers of Jesus who do not pray and try to follow on their own power will collapse.”  I like what Kernaghan has to say about the disciples in the garden as Judas approaches, “Jesus’ followers were prepared to die for him, but they were not prepared to die with him.  On this night salvation would come to God’s people not through defeat of their enemies but through the death and resurrection of the Savior” (306)  Later when Jesus was before the high priest Lane says, “It is evident from Mark’s Gospel that Jesus had carefully avoided calling himself the Messiah [up to this point].  It was not his desire to arouse the nationalistic and political hopes which clustered around the figure of the Messiah in popular thinking. . . . [But now] to the question whether he claimed to be the promised Messiah, he replied clearly, ‘I am'” (536).  And finally from Garland again, “While Jesus was under fire inside, Peter warms himself by the fire outside.  As Jesus confesses under immense pressure and hostility that seals his fate, Peter capitulates under the gentlest of pressure and lies to save himself.” (566)  Hope you have a good week.

April 1

Today is April Fools Day.  However the sermon I preached yesterday was not foolish.  We talked about the end times.  And while it is important to know the signs leading up the the last days, we also need to be careful on how we walk during the last days.  This is why I focused (as I believe Jesus did in Mark 13) on preparing followers of Christ on how He wants us to behave during the end times.  He wants us to watch and be aware of the events surrounding us.  Because in those last days, there will be imposters trying to lead us astray.  There will be persecution and hardship.  There will be cosmic struggles.  There will be false Christ who WILL deceive many.  And Jesus does not want us to be unaware.  Keep watch-keep on your guard.  Do not let them trick you.  Many Christians in America have it good as far as being persecuted for Christ. Our brothers and sisters around the world are not so lucky.  But I am not sure when our luck here in America will run out.  When it does, we need to trust in God. Trust in His Word. Trust that He is in control.  Trust that He will not leave us.  And when that time comes we need to Stand. Stand firm in our faith. Standing combines our watchfulness and our trust in God.  It will not be easy. But that is why Jesus spoke the words to us in chapter 13.  If you do these three things, you will be no fool.

March 25

Wow, Sunday’s message had a lot in it.  And yet, there was still more I wanted to touch on but couldn’t because of time.  Here are a few more quotes from various commentaries I look at on a weekly basis in preparing my message.  Kernaghan says, “The fig tree than is an enacted parable about the temple. When Jesus denounced the temple as a den of robbers, drove out the merchants and customers, overturned the tables of the moneychangers and stopped the offering of sacrifices, he was not trying to purify the temple. His actions amounted to a curse (on the temple).  And if the fig tree, which he also cursed, had withered away to its roots, what would become of the temple?”  Later, “it is impossible to love your neighbors as yourself when you are constantly seeking to put yourself in a position above them”  Wow, so good!
   I did not have time to explore the widow’s mites at the end of chapter 12.  It like Bartimaeus serves as an positive example of the teachings before it.  Lane has several insights into this that I was unable to bring out.  This account of the widow “serves to sharpen the contrast between the sham righteousness of the scribes and that wholehearted devotion to God which characterized an unnamed widow whose poverty was absolute. . . . The fact that the woman gave two coins was significant, for she could easily have kept one for herself.” Wow, so good!
  I will leave you with those two great thoughts.

March 18

As I was doing my devotions this morning, I was reading through the book of Ruth and a phrase caught my attention.  Boaz is described as “a man of standing”.  This phrase is actually two words in the Hebrew (Gibbor Chayil).  These are the same two words that are used in Judges to describe Gideon (Judges 6:12) only there they are translated “Mighty Warrior” (NIV).  I like translation “Mighty Man of Valor”  I know that in a couple of months, I am going to preach on Gideon and so I did a bit of research on this phrase.  It is used 41 times in the OT and is used to describe notables like Jephthath (Judges 11:1), Saul (1 Sam 9:1), David (1 Sam 16:18), Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:28), and Naaman (2 Kings 5:1).  Over 63% of this combination are used in 1st and 2nd Chronicles (26 times) mostly of random tribes/peoples.  There is one woman who this attribute is connected with combining “Isssaw” (Hebrew for “woman”) and “Chayil” (i.e. woman of valor) and that is Ruth. It has a rich meaning that I will expand upon when I preach.  But today, in light of these verses, I am calling you to be men and women who are Mighty Warriors.

March 11

  If you are following these devotions, you will realize that this post did not go out on the Monday as usual.  It is actually Thursday the 14th.  As mentioned in my last post, there has been some hospitalizations in my family last week, and with getting out of the hospital and settling in with the new norm, I have been unable to keep up with it all in a timely fashion.  So I beg you forgiveness.  I am also at a loss this morning for what to write.  God has been teaching me patience this last week and with all my own expectations I have that are not being fulfilled in the way I would desire, I must confess I have not been the best person to be around.  So this morning, I confess my frustrations, ill-temper, and impatience.  Lord, help me to trust you and not on my own understanding.

March 4

  I am writing this a day later than usual because of an unexpected trip to the emergency room with my wife after the Sunday morning worship service.  At the time of this writing she still has not been released from the hospital.  And it is hard to be with my wife in the hospital and be with my kids at home.  Needless to say, I am weary and worried and running on empty.  It reminds me of the life of Paul that we looked at in Sunday school two weeks ago.  Paul was traveling to Rome when the boat was caught in the storm.  For 14 days, they struggled and on the 14th day, Paul was encouraging the sailors and helping getting them get fed.  And after they had to abandon ship the next day and swim ashore, there was Paul again getting firewood and being bitten by a viper for his trouble.  I am sure that Paul was as weary and worn as the rest of the 276 people at this point in the story.  Yet here he is ministering and encouraging those around him.  And so I write, hoping in my weariness, I might minister to others.  And even though, I do not know if anybody reads this blog or not, I still hope that this act of serving when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry, will help and encourage someone.

February 25

The Our Daily Bread devotional had a great message last week that tied nicely with the message Sunday about how your heart needs to be clean and so I am going to reproduce it here.  If you read it this last week, read it again.  Ernest Hemingway was asked if he could write a compelling story in six words.  His response: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn”  Hemingway’s story is powerful because it inspires us to fill in the details.  Were the shoes simply not needed by a healthy child? Or was there a tragic loss- something requiring God’s deep love and comfort?  The best stories pique our imagination, so it’s no surprise that the greatest story ever told stokes the fires of our creativity.  God’s story has a central plot: He created all things; we (the human race) fell into sin; Jesus came to Earth and died and rose again to save us from our sins; and we now await His return and the restoration of all things.  Knowing what has come before and what lies ahead, how should we now live?  If Jesus is restoring His entire creation from the clutches of evil, we must “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12).  This includes turning from sin by God’s power and choosing to love Him and others well (Rom 13:8-10).  The specific ways we fight with Jesus against evil will depend on what gifts we have and what needs we see.  Let’s use our imagination and look around us.  Let’s seek out the wounded and weeping, and extend God’s justice, love, and comfort as He guides us.  Live out your role in God’s story as He leads you.

February 18

  One of the lesions I was reminded again this last week as I was studying for the sermon yesterday is how God can use flawed, ordinary people to spread His perfect and extra-ordinary message.  You see, people in the 1st century (and even people in our own time) found it hard to believe that nobility or extra-ordinary wisdom could come from those of lowly birth.  Only those who were born with prestige or from well-to-do parents could grow up to be important themselves.  This was why Jesus’ hometown could not see Him as anything more than a carpenter.  “The myth of the Greco-Roman world was that godliness was tied to nobility.  [Similarly] the myth of our time is the godliness to tied to success.  . . . Mark invites us to commit ourselves to the truth that god does awesome thing through people and events that appear to be merely ordinary”  (Kernaghan 119)  I find it fascinating that God uses what Paul refers to as clay vessels to shine God’s love through.  We do not have to be perfect or successful or noble to show forth the message of Jesus.  And in fact, it enhances our message that God loves the broken and imperfect.  None of us should feel superior because without God’s love in our hearts, we are no better than anyone else.  We are all beggars telling each other where to find bread.

February 11

This week we celebrate Valentines Day.  It is a day to express our love and affections to friends, family, and other loved ones.  However, I would encourage you to do something more.  Since God so loved the world, I want everyone who reads this to be a Valentine to someone who is not close to you.  Maybe it is someone you bump into on a regular bases at a store or a restaurant.  Maybe it is a cashier or waitress.  Maybe it is the greeter at the supermarket you frequent.  Maybe it is a neighbor who just moved in or the mechanic who works on your car.  Bless them in some way this week.  Give them a warm hug or an extra tip.  Smile at them and bless them in the name of Jesus.  And if the mood strikes say, “I know someone who loves you more than you can ever imagine.  Would you like for me to tell you about him?”  The verse of the week on my desktop goes right along with this thought. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).  And may you all have a wonderful Valentines Day.