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Weekly Devotionals

"May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart  be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."

Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

The Need for Civility in an Uncivil World

Have you noticed we seem to be living in an increasingly uncivil America? From politics to random internet comments, there apears to be more and more rude, demeaning, and insulting language. I think you know what I am talking about. When a President, high-ranking politicians, sports stars, CEOs, and Hollywood celebrities speak or behave in uncivil ways, it gets modeled and then repeated by others.

Today, we’re in a dangerous place when it comes to how we view, treat, and talk about people we disagree with. Madonna fantasizes about blowing up the White House, Kathy Griffin displays a likeness of President Trump's severed head (what was she thinking?), and so-called "protests" over the death of George Floyd erupt into violence and property destruction.

Webster’s defines civility as “polite, reasonable, respectful speech and behavior.” It seems to me we have drifted far from that definition.  The web and social media in particular have become a social and cultural street fight.

A few months ago, comedian Eddie Murphy hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time in 25 years.  Why did it take 25 years before he returned to SNL?  In 1980 Murphy joined SNL after its original stars, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and John Belushi left the show. Critics were now calling Saturday Night Live, Saturday Night Dead.  At 19, Murphy joined the show and “knocked it out of the park.”  He was a great hit.  Murphy went on to make movies like Trading Places, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

However, Murphy’s career went into a tailspin. One of the SNL cast members made a joke about him in 1995.  David Spade was doing a sketch where he was the teacher of a grade school class. He held up a picture of Eddie and said to the kids, “Look children, it’s a falling star. Make a wish!”  For Murphy, it’s one thing to joke about a part he played in a movie but what Mr. Spade said was personal…and it really hurt.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

I think you know this.  Sometimes Christ-followers are not immune from this kind of communication. We can cut people down with the best of them.  Anyone of us can fall into using snarky tweets, emails, or comments.  Our default mode for interaction, particularly when we disagree, can be mean-spitited and sarcastic.  Usually we don't have malicious intent, but sometimes our words leave wounds and walls that we may not even realize. Often, we'll say something that we've forgotten by the time we go to bed, but the person who heard our words may remember them for years to come.

We need to hear what God says to the Ephesian church (Eph. 4:29), "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen".  In the Greek, “unwholesome” means decay or rotten. It has to do with fruit or fish.  Paul is saying to you and me, don't let any rotten apples or spoiled fish come out of your mouth. Watch out for, as one writer puts it, “verbal halitosis.”

Here’s an interesting question.  What if you taped the conversations you had with others for the past week - telephone conversations, what you said to your family members, neighbors, church friends, your angry moments, your stress moments – and then played them all back?  Would you hear any talk that would tear down another person?  Would any of your words be critical, negative, complaining, a put-down, a little sarcasm?  Maybe you had the last word in a conversation that ended the argument, but it wounded someone that you love. Listen again…"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.”     Stop it; don’t let it come out. The Bible is clear when it says the tongue has the power of life and death.

In verse 29 God gives us a “do” right after He gives us a “don’t.” He says, "Don't let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth.”  And now the “do.” Paul says, speak “only what is helpful in building up others.” You need to look at the other person as a person who's under construction; a person you're trying to build up in the Lord. So ask yourself when you talk to another person, “Did I build them up or did I bulldoze them?”  Make sure no rotten, spoiled garbage comes out of your mouth. Speak to others lovingly and civilly.  As Christians, let us show the world what it does not have.

Let me close by sharing this heartfelt prayer of King David.  Recognizing the power of his words, he prays,  "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."  That's a prayer all of us need to pray every day, to post on a wall, maybe on a mirror somewhere, to commit to memory for frequent recall. Paraphrasing David’s prayer, you might say, ”Lord, help me to think about what I'm saying before I say it. Help me guard what comes out of my mouth. Help me hear what I sound like to other people, and help me to measure what I say. Lord, may I radiate civility with my words in an uncivil world.”

Pastor Jeff

The Cowardly Lion and Courage

Most likely you have seen the Wizard of Oz.  Before the movie that was released in 1938 came the book.  Many say it’s one of the best-known stories in American literature.  The Library of Congress has declared it “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.”  I love some of the lines in the movie such as “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too,” utters the Wicked Witch of the West or Dorothy Gale crying out, “There’s no place like home.”

This magical story is built around a lovable quartet. There is Dorothy, the little Kansas farm girl who is caught up in a cyclone and blown into the Land of Oz.  Then there is the Scarecrow who wants to see the Wizard to get some brains, the Tin Woodsman who is looking for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who desires more courage. As I write this devotional, I know people who could use some more brains. I know other people who need a little more heart.  But most people, considering what we are experiencing in our country these days, could use what the Cowardly Lion was looking for, more courage. As I watch the news and try to lead FPC through the fallout of the coronavirus, I too am in need of a little more courage to keep moving forward.

In Hebrews 10:24 we read “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Simply put, Christians are to be in the “business” of encouraging others to do what they need to do. That’s what Jesus did when he was with his disciples, he encouraged them.

I was thinking the other day about what the word encourage means. Take the word and reverse it.  You get “courage in.” It means you're putting courage in people. You act like a gasoline fill-up except it's a motivation fill-up. When you encourage someone, you literally put courage in them. You give them courage to take a risk, to trust God, maybe to just get through a very tough day.

You put courage in someone when you stop and pray with them. Instead of waiting to get home to pray for someone’s need (often you will forget), pray for the person right after you hear their need . I have seen people literally change before my eyes when I take a moment to pray with them.

You encourage a person when you praise them for something they did or more importantly for something they are. Sometimes you infuse courage when you share a Scripture verse with them, or send them a note or email with words of encouragement (a handwritten note is better than an email).  You encourage someone by honestly inquiring how the person is doing.  I can't tell you how many times someone's word, or note, or prayer of encouragement has put courage in me on a day when I needed some courage.  And the encourager never knew how much I needed it. But they were literally the channel for God to say to me, "Jeff, I love you. It's going to be okay. Take courage.”

Encouragement restores your perspective when you’ve been battered and beat up by the pressures of the day. I don’t know about you but I can become discouraged when I watch the news and read about what is happening in our country. The pandemic, violence in our cities, defunding of the police movement, the toppling of statues, lack of courageous leadership, all work together to discourage our spirit and prompt us to want to stay in bed with the blanket pulled over your head.

The great thing about the ministry of encouragement is that anybody can do it. It doesn't require any great gifts. It doesn't require any musical or speaking ability, or leadership, or a seminary degree - just a heart like the Scarecrow desired. It takes a genuine interest in others. Daily, you look for ways to give another person encouragement; to build them up.

That Cowardly Lion finally got his courage largely from being with three other friends who carried him through the tough times. People around you don't need a wizard to give them courage. They need somebody like you to help them take the next step in life. They need the courage-giving love of a Jesus follower. That’s you.

Pastor Jeff

What Do You Really Value?

Growing up, I didn’t care a lot about what was printed in the newspaper.  The front page never interested me. But when it came to the sports section, I devoured it especially the statistics of my favorite baseball players. I became very excited when Dick Allen hit a home run, Robin Roberts pitched a shut out, or Ritchie Ashburn got the winning hit (in case you don’t know, these are Philadelphia Phillies who played in the 50s and 60s). Since I was a serious baseball card collector, I knew when my idols did well the price of their baseball card went up.  I saw dollar signs.  When I charged 50 cents an hour to babysit three kids, I learned that selling a baseball card for that amount was a big deal.

Let me give you a little lesson on heavenly economics I didn’t learn until I became a Christian in my early twenties. Matthew 6:19-21 says, ”Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy; where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Though I still have my baseball card collection (and the price of each card, except for Mickey Mantle, has gone down), Jesus is telling us in Matthew 6 about safe investments. He says that when you invest in things that matter in heaven, you can’t lose them.  The bottom line is, your heart will be wherever your money is. The things you care about most will be those things in which you have invested the most, either stuff on earth stuff, or stuff in heaven.

You may have thought about this but in many ways your checkbook reveals what you really care about. It’s not the songs you sing in church, the beliefs you have, or the activities you're involved in.  Just like my baseball card collection sixty years ago told the story of what I really valued, our checkbook reveals what you and I really value…maybe a house, a business, recreation, clothes, entertainment?

Your money always follows your heart.  Author Randy Alcorn writes, “Suppose you buy shares of General Motors. What happens? You suddenly develop interest in GM. You check the financial pages. You see a magazine article about GM and read every word, even though a month ago you would have passed right over it.  Suppose you're giving to help African children with AIDS. When you see an article on the subject, you're hooked. If you're sending money to plant churches in India and an earthquake hits India, you watch the news and fervently pray.”  Do you want your heart to care for more eternal things?  Then take some of your money or most of it and invest it in things that are eternal.  Put your resources, money, possessions, time and talents into the things of God.  Once you make the investment then step back and watch what happens. As surely as the compass needle follows north, your treasure will follow your heart.

Who is the ultimate financial advisor?  Is it Dave Ramsey?  He’s excellent but it’s not Mr. Ramsey.  The ultimate financial advisor is Jesus.  He wants every Christ-follower to give themselves to what has eternal value, like sharing the Gospel with people who have no hope without Him, or meeting the needs of hurting people, or feeding the hungry, or being a part of a healing ministry or food pantry, or organizing a mission trip, or visiting those in the hospital (once we are allowed back in). There is so much a Christian can do to make an eternal investment.

Not only should our time be invested in making an eternal difference but every dollar given in Jesus' name for lost or hurting people will be credited to your account in heaven. I'm glad Jesus gave a concrete way to measure where our heart is. It's like a spiritual EKG. He said, ”Where are you putting your money?" If it isn't in the agenda of Jesus, you probably love something more than you love Him.

Today might be your day to begin revaluing your life, and if necessary repenting of treasure that's been invested in too much of the temporary. Maybe this is the day you make Jesus Christ the Lord of your money, your home, your possessions, your time.  If you're going to be a follower of Jesus, during these difficult days you will invest in the things He invested in.

Pastor Jeff

All Lives Matter to God 

You’ve heard the rallying cries in recent weeks: Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Police Lives Matter, White Lives Matter.  The racial conflict we see on the news and its deadly consequences have unfortunately led to increased division and the breaking down of our country.  Whatever position you take on issues of race, police brutishness, and injustice in this country, let me say as strongly as I can that all lives matter to God. You may not feel like your life or the lives of a certain group of people matter to the government or to society at large, but I can say without hesitation that every life matters to God. In God’s eyes, every person is deserving of being treated with respect, honor, fairness, and dignity because every human being is made in God’s image. Most importantly, all lives matter to God because every life represents a soul worth saving from the punishment of sin.

By way of reflection, back in 2013, when the “Black Lives Matter” slogan began to be used, I took offense. I immediately countered with, “All Lives Matter.” I felt that statement elevated one race above another, rather than acknowledging that everyone has worth.  I have done a lot of reflection since then and have come to realize that to bring emphasis to one truth does not mean you’re discounting another truth. In affirming “Black Lives Matter,” most people would also agree that “All Lives Matter.” Affirming that "Black Lives Matter" is an attempt to bring attention to one of the great injustices of our culture; treating black lives as if they didn't matter.

It is clear in Scripture that God is the powerful protector of the weakest, poorest, infirm, and helpless. Everyone matters to our God.  Luke 7:22 says “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Unloved Leah was given children (Genesis 29:31); King David remembered lame Mephibosheth and seated him at the royal table (2 Samuel 4, 9); the elderly widow, Anna, was supported by and lived in the temple (Luke 2:37); lost sheep, lost coins and wandering sons are urgently pursued until they are recovered (Luke 15); Jesus healed men, women and children throughout his ministry; and even in the midst of his of crucifixion, he made sure that his mother was committed to the care of his best friend (John 19:27). Jesus leaves no one out.  All lives matter.

John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but through him the world might be saved.” Did you notice the word “world” is used three times in these two verses? That word refers to everybody in the world — all lives. God sent Jesus to save all lives. If you are breathing, you are a part of the world. God cares about all people and He cares about you.  Every life matters.

Non-believers often complain about the “exclusivity” of Christianity, but they have it wrong. Christianity is inclusive. The Gospel is offered freely to everyone who seeks God, without distinction, without favoritism, without condition.   All are valued, all are invited, all who respond will enjoy eternal life the moment someone puts their faith in Jesus as Savior. This message of new life found in Christ is the message that God’s people have to share with an anxious, isolated, and turbulent world.

No matter your race, ethnicity, or socio-economic background, God loves and cares about you. The Apostle John wrote that through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, people “out of every kindred, tongue, and nation” are being redeemed and reconciled to God.  In one of his visions on the island of Patmos (off the coast of Turkey) John saw an angel flying in midair. He was proclaiming the eternal Gospel to those who live on the earth—"to every nation, tribe, language and people" (Rev. 14:6).  The Gospel is for everyone. God's Word clearly states that All Lives Matter to Him.

Please continue to pray for resolve, justice, reconciliation, and courageous leadership as we battle both the coronavirus and the violence our country is experiencing.

Pastor Jeff

What We Can Learn from the Shortest Verse in the Bible

I remember as a grade schooler going to Vacation Bible School at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cherry Hill, N.J.  My parents were charter members. We would get a piece of candy every time we’d memorize and recite a Bible verse.  I worked really hard and memorized Deuteronomy 5:17, “Thou shall not kill” and 5:19,”Thou shall not steal.”  Boy, that candy tasted good.  My VBS friends memorized verses like I Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always,” and 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”  We didn’t exert much brain power with the verses we chose to memorize.  Our favorite verse was memorizing the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35….“Jesus wept.”  I think I received a tootsie roll for memorizing that one.

Those two words, “Jesus wept” can transform how we think about God.  In the eleventh chapter of John, Jesus is weeping in a cemetery, mourning the loss of his dear friend Lazarus.  Why was he crying?  The context provides the answer. When Jesus met Lazarus’ sister Mary and saw her and others weeping, he “groaned in his spirit and became troubled.” It greatly saddened Jesus to see his beloved friends stricken with grief. That was why “Jesus gave way to tears.”

In Luke 19 we see Jesus crying over the city of Jerusalem. It is Palm Sunday and our Lord is riding into the Holy City on the back of a donkey. Everyone is jubilant and waving palm branches.  As Jesus gazed into the faces of all the people standing along the side of the road, he began to weep.  Why was He weeping?  Jesus was expressing His sorrow for the people of Jerusalem because they were missing their opportunity for true peace.  Jerusalem means, “The City of Peace.”  History has shown that Jerusalem has not been a city of peace.  Blood is still shed in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Some have called Jerusalem “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.”

As I reflect upon what is going on in our country in recent months, I believe Jesus has been shedding real tears over our nation.  We are in the midst of four crises.  Any one of them has the capacity to shake us up.  Amazingly, we are facing them simultaneously.

First, nearly 104,000 of our fellow citizens have died from Covid-19.  That number exceeds the combined deaths of U.S. soldiers from every military conflict since the end of WWII.  That includes Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  All of these deaths have occurred in the last four months.

Second, major cities across this country are being ripped apart by anger and violence precipitated by the killing of a black man named George Floyd by the hands and knee of a Minneapolis policeman.  Protests have popped up all over this country. In tandem with some of the protests are persons who are trying to escalate the chaos with violence.  Peoples lives and their businesses are being destroyed.

Third, more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment.  This country has not seen such unemployment since the Great Depression in the 1920s.  Tens of thousands of businesses may not survive.

Fourth, civility seems to be dead. Politicians and leaders are focused on a divide and conquer struggle to elevate Our Side and demonize the Other Side.  Few elected leaders speak of the common good. Few of them speak truth seasoned with grace and mercy.  Hearts across this country have become hardened.

I believe God’s heart is broken when he looks at this country.  What difference does it make that Jesus weeps?  That short verse that I loved to quote as a VBS kid means that God is not watching from the sidelines.  It means that God is intimately involved in every minute of history, good or bad, as it unfolds. He grieves when he sees injustice, hate, and murder. It also means that those who call themselves a Christian can not remain on the sidelines.

What should we do?  Grab onto those short verses and personalize them.  “Pray without ceasing” because the world needs supernatural power.  “Rejoice always” because God, in the end, is going to set everything right, even though we are going through very difficult times.

What else should we do?  Comfort the grieving, show grace and mercy, work for justice, stay connected the best you can with others, work for the common good of all, and mostly, tell your family and friends about the Good News of Jesus Christ. The life-changing message of our Lord is our only hope.

I don’t know if you are politically to the Left or to the Right.  Our call, I believe, is to go Deep…deep into the teachings of the One who weeps in the cemetery and cries over the brokenness in our cities.

Pastor Jeff

We are Part of God's Rescue Team

The movie Jaws was made in 1975 by Stephen Spielberg on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Before Judy and I moved to Haines City we lived on this beautiful island. I pastored FaithMV Church.  While living on Martha’s Vineyard five miles off the coast of Cape Cod, it was fun to talk to people who had bit parts in Jaws.  Judy was the hospice nurse for Lynn Murphy.  He was the special effects guy.  Judy learned how he pulled that giant Great White shark through the ocean scaring movie goers all across America.

This blockbuster movie with its dramatic music and dramatic visual effects exacerbated the fear of sharks in the minds of its viewers.I now have a healthy fear of sharks.  I have learned a shark will only attack you if you're wet.  Several years ago when the Winter family was vacationing in Ocean City, NJ we were on the beach when the lifeguard blew his whistle and ordered everyone out of the water.  There was a shark sighting.  Dozens of people quickly exited the water. They were lined up on the beach except for two young kids who had gone out too far. It was high tide and they were in trouble.

Having grown up in New Jersey I have always known that the Ocean City lifeguards are some of the best on the east coast.  In a matter of seconds, all the lifeguards on adjacent beaches raced to help save these children. Some were swimming out to them; others were launching the rowboat and rowing right into high tide. Thankfully, the two children were rescued unharmed.  Within minutes the rescue mission was over. The lifeguards usually stay on their own beach, but not this time. When it was life-or-death, they all worked together.  Whatever happened to the shark sighting?  He kind of got lost in all the drama on the 44th Street Beach.

In Acts 1 and 2 we see another rescue mission. Jesus is giving a pep talk to the eleven men who would launch His Eternal Rescue Mission. He says in Acts. 1:8, ”You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." What a huge challenge he gave to his disciples. I want you to take this life-saving message to your city, to the surrounding area, and then around the world.

In Acts 1:14 this is what they did, “Day after day they all joined together in prayer.” In Acts 2:1 we read, "When the Day of Pentecost came they were all together  in one place." Did you notice the word “together?” Then in verse 41 we read that the disciples who were transformed by the Holy Spirit began preaching the Gospel and “those who accepted His message were baptized and about 3,000 were added to their number that day.”

The disciples were surrounded by dying people who had no relationship with Jesus Christ.  They responded the same way the Ocean City Beach Patrol did that day. They realized they had to work together if they were going to rescue the people that filled the city of Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost.

There are thirty-six churches in Haines City. No matter what denomination they are affiliated with or if they are an independent church with no affiliation, each church is an important part of God's life-saving team in our community. More often than not, God's lifeguards (churches) are each working their own beach often separated from one another.

That might be okay except for one thing, lost people in Haines City and surrounding communities are going down while we are huddled together in our little corner of the beach. The fact is, in our lifetime America has become a post-Christian nation. The people we live and work around know very little about the Bible or about our Savior. We're losing the battle to rescue people. How can we continue to work separately? Is it that we've forgotten the price Jesus paid for these people? Have we forgotten the eternal hell that is everyone’s future when they reject the Savior?

I think we need to admit the obvious. We're failing to make an eternal impact in our community; we’re failing to help rescue the perishing. And so I am saying in this devotional as a lifeguard on the beach, "Hey, people are dying here! Come on, we've got to work together!" There's nothing like a pandemic to get our attention and to burden our hearts for lost people.  It’s time we begin to plan how we can do what the first century Christians did, to work together to impact Haines City with the Good News.

Years ago I took my youth group to the Bowery Mission in New York City.  In 1869 the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby wrote the great Gospel song, Rescue the Perishing, from the bowels of the mission. The refrain says….Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save. Miss Crosby saw so many men and women who were hungry and homeless and wanted to see them be rescued and saved.

I can still picture those lifeguards running full speed ahead because the cries of dying people brought them together. Brothers and sisters, this is life or death. We have to come together to help rescue this dying world with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Jeff

Memorial Day and Christ’s Sacrifice

Memorial Day is a day that is set aside to remember and honor our brave soldiers who have given their lives to protect our land and keep us free.  It began as a day to honor our Civil War dead, but after World War I, it was expanded to include all who have died in all the wars in which America was involved.  Historians say our country has fought in 13 wars.  We have asked during these conflicts for young adults to be willing to give their lives in the name of freedom. For some families in America every day is Memorial Day because they have an empty chair at the table.

A few years ago Judy and I toured the Navy Seal museum in Ft. Pierce. Expecting to spend two hours we spent four touring every part of the museum. For us, the museum captures the spirit of the Seals who dedicated their lives to serve and fight for our country.  On one of the plaques in an exhibit this statement was made by a seasoned seal. He said, "It's important for veterans who fought in a war to believe their sacrifice was worth it." That statement gripped me. Was their sacrifice worth it?  Whatever the battle, whatever the war, that's what the soldier wants to know.  Even if the ground that the soldier fought so hard for is lost….was their sacrifice worth it?

As I sit at my desk writing a Memorial Day devotional I wonder if Jesus ever asked this question as he looks at us, "Was my sacrifice worth it?”  Think about this.   Soldiers go into battle risking their life.  Jesus didn’t risk His life. He gave his life.  He came to planet earth knowing that He alone could pay the price for the sins of the world, my sins and yours….”the righteous for the unrighteous." Nothing breaks the heart of Jesus more than to see the ground He died to liberate in our lives being lost to the enemy. It breaks His heart to see us clinging to the sin and junk that He bled and died for.

In Luke 19:41-42 we read about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, The crowds were celebrating. They were cheering.  And what was Jesus doing?  He was crying. Jesus saw the city, and He wept over it. Why did Jesus weep when He saw Jerusalem? Being God and having omniscience, Jesus knew these fickle people who were crying out, “Hosanna!” would soon be shouting, “Crucify Him!” He knew that one of His handpicked disciples, Judas, would betray him. He knew that another disciple, Peter, would deny him. Looking ahead 40 years, Jesus saw the destruction that would come upon the city at the hands of the Emperor Titus. Jesus was filled with grief.  It doesn’t matter if He is entering Jerusalem or He looks at our life today, when we sin we break Jesus’ heart.  It breaks His heart when he sees one of His children filling his/her mind with pornographic fantasies or uses his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, for sexual sins that He died for.  It bruises Jesus when we wound others with our mouth. We hurt Jesus when we lie, abandon our wedding vows, show no forgiveness, exude bitterness, gossip, display pride or so many other dark impulses unworthy of His sacrifice on the cross.

Let me suggest that the most damaging way we can dishonor and diminish the blood-sacrifice of Jesus is to think that there's some other way we can get rid of our sin in order to grab a spot in heaven. Maybe if I live a good life or if I was more religious I can make it through the “Pearly Gates” (which actually don’t exist). Listen closely, if there was any other way your death penalty could have been paid, Jesus would have never endured the agony of the cross. Why would He experience such misery and torment if there was another way to pay the penalty for your guilt and sin before a holy God?

I don’t know if you have followed the story of Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli.  Loughlin was one of the stars on Full House, a 1980s sitcom.  Last week she agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges in connection to her role in a college admissions scam.  She and her husband paid $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake crew team recruits.  What’s interesting is Loughlin and her husband pleaded not guilty for over a year.  As part of the plea agreement, Loughlin will be sentenced to two months in prison and Giannulli will be sentenced to five.

I find it curious that some people plead not guilty for a long period of time and then change their mind and plead guilty.  At times we can be just like Loughlin and Giannulli.  We say, “I am alright. I didn’t do anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with me. I am not guilty.  I haven’t sinned.”  This type of thinking can cause us real problems.  If we don’t see ourselves as sinners and admit our sin and guilt, then we won’t see how much we need God and His forgiveness.  We are denying why Jesus needed to come to earth.  We are saying that Jesus’ death on the cross was not worth it.

In John 3:17 Jesus says, “I came to save the world not condemn it.”  If we don’t see our sin before a holy God we won’t see how critical it is to confess it. The truth is, we are sinners and we need to plead guilty and affirm what Jesus has done for us for us on the cross.  To honor the unspeakable blood sacrifice of God's only Son is to abandon any other hope that we can become righteous in the sight of our God.  So Jesus looks at you, he looks at me, and then He looks at the his nail-pierced hands and says on Memorial Day, “I love you so much and my sacrifice was worth it!”

Take a few moments right now and thank the Lord Jesus for what he did for you on a sin-stained cross.  And with much of the nation staying at home, pray for the grieving families of late military veterans who are left to honor their relatives without the support of traditional parades or group graveside remembrances.

Pastor Jeff

Do You Keep Score?

Carson Driggs invited me to his birthday bowling party. We were both in 4th grade.  I can remember after we rented shoes at the counter our group of five headed over to the assigned lane.  We were surprised to find out that our scores would be projected onto a large screen above the alley. Carson was mortified that his score would be seen by everyone in the bowling alley. The birthday boy refused to bowl.  He didn’t want anyone to see his score. I loved it because bowlers around us could see if I got a strike or spare.

There are some people in this world that will say, “Let’s bowl and not keep score.”  I am not one of those people.  My guess is, no matter what the sport, most athletes would not be interested in playing if no points were kept for runs scored, goals, or touchdowns.  When I play pickle ball I want to keep score because I like to win. But I have to wonder in my ripe “older age” do the people who enjoy the game without keeping score have a little less stress in their lives?

I Peter 4:9 says, "Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins." There are many ways to react badly when sinned against by another Christian. Some of us tend to react with sulking and feeling sorry for ourselves. Some blow up while others give in to a slow, brooding kind of anger. And some just walk away. In His Word, God says very clearly, “love each other deeply because love covers up a multitude of sins.

In this verse God gives us a compelling description of what Christian love is in very practical terms. He says it's something that covers a multitude of sins. Now what is the opposite of love?  It’s un-love.  Un-love doesn’t overlook any sin, any mistake, any offense.  Just like in keeping a bowling score projected onto a screen, we tend to keep score in our relationships. We begin to add up negative points when someone fails us, hurts us, or dismisses us. One day Peter asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive someone when they offended him?  Peter was a score keeper.  Jesus said, "Seventy times seven." Let it go 490 times! By that time Peter, who's counting anyway?

Today, maybe a relationship you have is suffering because you’ve been keeping score with your spouse, son, daughter, or parent.  Maybe you have been adding up points against your friend,  co-worker, or someone at church.  When they do something that bothers you, you kind of roll your eyes and say, “There they go again.” In your mind you put another mark onto the scoreboard. After awhile this person can do nothing right.  When they do something good you easily dismiss it or explain it away.  Have you ever thought that the person you're supposed to love might be drowning in your critical comments, your judgmental attitude, your negative assumptions.

The man who wrote these words, Simon Peter, experienced this kind of forgiving love himself. No doubt he often recalled that horrible day when he let Jesus down during his greatest hour of need by denying Him three times. Peter found out that Jesus did not hold his denial against him. Right before Jesus ascended into heaven He had an engaging conversation with Peter after eating breakfast together.  Jesus said, "Do you love Me?" Notice he doesn’t say, "Why did you fail me?" He said, ”Do you love Me?"  And Peter said,”Yes Lord, You know that I love you.” That’s all Jesus wanted to know.

As a Christ-follower, Jesus has forgiven you.  And that is how Jesus wants you to treat others with the same kind of love and forgiveness.  “Love one another as I have loved you,” is the command Jesus gave to the Church. Such love does not translate someone’s imperfections into destructive criticism, but is gracious toward the faults of others and patient with their imperfections. Such love should applaud the good qualities they find in others as well as speaking the truth in love.  Yes, a transgression by another person needs to be addressed.

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Try to remember that the Lord has a lot more to forgive in your life than you ever will with another person.  And so, it’s time to put away the scoreboard just like your Lord has done with you. Remember, un-love notices and records ever slight, every problem, every mistake. But when you are a follower of the Savior, by the work of His Spirit, He will mold you into a person who loves as He does - without a scoreboard.

Pastor Jeff

Bringing Refreshment to Someone Else

I admire everyone who has ever run a marathon.  When our children were young I took part in a running program.  Every evening, I would run around the block twenty-five times until my son Ken moved the block.  I have never run a marathon.  Our daughter Kelly has run six of them, two being the famous Boston Marathon. Last fall she ran a 50-mile race in Colorado and her husband Paul ran a jaw-dropping race called the Leadville 100, a race with elevations ranging between 9,200 - 12,620 feet.  He didn’t quite make it.  He completed 19 hours of running and ended his journey at 88 miles.  Judy and I are really proud of our daughter and son-in-law preparing for and running these races.

If you've ever watched or run a marathon, you've seen the volunteers who line the streets of the course.  They are positioned all along the race route ready to hand out orange slices and water.  My daughter tells me as the race becomes more exhausting her body may begin to shut down. She needs water to keep her from becoming dehydrated. The Vitamin C in the orange slice helps prevent a muscle injury.  I think it's questionable if marathon runners could make it to the end if it weren't for the volunteers staffing those little refreshment stands.

In a way, all of us are marathon runners when it comes to living life. Just look at the course you have to run every day, every week, every month.  All of us reach places along the way where we feel like we can't go on. That's where the refreshment folks are greatly needed.  Every one of us needs people in our life that will provide us refreshment.

In Scripture we read the example of a person who provided refreshment when the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome. II Timothy 1:16-18 is a wonderful example of an unsung Bible hero.  Paul is writing about the loneliness he felt waiting in a prison cell to be executed. He's isolated in Caesar's prison. The man who has helped so many run their race needs someone to help him finish his.  Along comes a man with a name that is very hard to pronounce. Paul writes, "May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!"  Onesiphorus’ name literally means "profit-bringer." That's something all of us can be; that we would make a person richer in spirit because they have been with you.

The Scripture says this about Onesiphorus. He had a genuine concern for Paul (vs.16 &18).  With this servant of the Lord, it was more than just talk. It’s common for people to say to someone in need, "Now if there is anything I can do, just call."  Christians have good intentions but sometimes don’t  follow up on them. Not so with Onesiphorus. He saw Paul’s need and acted upon it without being asked.

He risked being ridiculed (vs.16c). He stepped outside of his comfort zone and refused to be ashamed of Paul’s chains. He didn’t care what other people thought. He had guts.

Onesiphorus was persistent in his task (vs. 17).  Someone else might have said, "If I have some free time while in Rome, I might try to contact Paul."  On the contrary, when Onesiphorus was in Rome, we are told that he "searched hard for Paul until he found him.” That’s what commitment to a Christian brother or sister is about. They don’t quit; they persist. They keep at it.

Onesiphorus hit the mark.  Have you ever noticed that often it is the timing of a thoughtful gesture that seems to hit the mark and makes a difference in someone’s life? Paul states that Onesiphorus "often refreshed him." That breeze of fresh air feels best when you are hot and sweaty.  A glass of cold water tastes best when you’re really thirsty.  How about the next time someone asks you to remember them in prayer, stop right where you are and lift them to the Lord. And by your act and faith you will bring needed “refreshment” to their soul.

To be one of God’s refreshers in the life of someone else, you are there even when you don’t know what to do or what to say.  You are there when it’s inconvenient, when they are unloveable, or when you have to “search hard” to reach them.  You go the extra mile when someone really needs to know they are loved.  You walk into their life when everyone else is walking out.  Your ministry of refreshment can take many forms. Sometimes it's just a hug (hopefully in the future). Other times it's a compliment, a word of encouragement, a letter or e-mail, a text, a visit, noticing something good, or praying with them.

As I put together this devotional my guess is the Holy Spirit is prompting you even now to reach out to someone because He knows who needs what you can give. Don’t miss this….learn to listen to those promptings from God. It's one of the ways you lead a supernatural life. Don't dismiss the Holy Spirit's promptings in your spirit.

Baseball season has been put on hold because of the coronavirus. I love this sport.  Let me finish with a neat baseball story.  Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues. Breaking baseball’s color barrier, he faced hostile crowds in every stadium. While playing one day in his home stadium of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, he committed an error. The fans began to boo him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the crowd continued booing him. Then, without saying a word, shortstop Pee Wee Reese went over and stood next to Jackie. He put his arm around him and faced the crowd. Suddenly the fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that that arm around his shoulder saved his career.

Pee Wee Reese had a forerunner in the person of Onesiphorus. He stood by the Apostle Paul, who was in prsion, facing execution when these words to Timothy were penned.  Who can you stand with through their trials?  How can the spirit of Onesiphorus shine through you?

Pastor Jeff

For a few days last week I haven’t had much motivation to write another devotional.  While saying goodbye on Sunday to people leaving the field after the outdoor service, one of our members drove by and said how much she enjoyed my devotionals.  That simple and encouraging statement prompted me to sit down this afternoon to write this devotional.  She was Onesiphorus for me.

The Lessons We Continue to Learn

Someone has said that when our young people go back to school they will be taught a lesson by the teacher, then they’ll take the test. In life it’s switched around. You have the test, then you learn the lesson.

More and more people are being tested for the coronavirus. Testing not only tells a person if they have Covid-19 but it also helps investigators understand the prevalence and spread of the disease.

There is a need to be tested for the coronavirus. But it seems to me,  the coronavirus has been testing us; with disruption and distance and with loss of control and loss of connection.  We have certainly entered a “new normal.”

I believe since the beginning of March all of us have been taking three tests.  The tests are the Family Test, Facade Test and Faith Test.

The Family Test. Families are close to God’s heart. In fact, they were His idea in the first place. From the beginning, when God created man, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone”, so He created woman as a “help-meet, suitable for him (Gen. 2:18). Then, He blessed them and told them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Even after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God continued with His plan for families. He even spoke prophetically of the salvation that would come through the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).

Until the coronavirus hit, many families and some couples were like my favorite ride at a carnival.…bumper cars. Each morning everyone would hit the gas pedal, head off in different directions, and occasionally bump into each other.  Suddenly, now families/couples are together, a lot!  And being together reveals much about the health or ill health of that family unit. It may reveal that a family/couple is healthy, communicating, forgiving, listening, laughing. Being together a lot may reveal that family members or a married couple have become strangers through neglect or they are demeaning and hurtful in how they treat each another.  Going to work, school, busyness, gym, church, sports, activities all can push those we love to the margins of our life where they are taken for granted and seldom listened to. Maybe the lesson we can learn from the coronavirus test is that the people in our family or your spouse are treasures, gifts from God; that they need to be loved and forgiven. God did not make a mistake when he placed your children, siblings or spouse in your life. It's time to make some memories while there's still time to do it. Make each day count for the people that count.

The Façade Test. Who's the real person behind the façade (or mask) that everybody sees at church or in the neighborhood?  The way to find out what's in an unmarked tube is to squeeze it. It’s the same with you,  me, and other people. Watch what comes out when we’re squeezed. And boy, has this pandemic squeezed us all. What may come to the surface may be some ugly stuff that we don’t see behind the facade. It may be an "all about me” attitude, a simmering anger, "closet" control freak, a mean spirit, or a dangerous depression.

The Faith Test.  When you step back and take a look at the last couple of months, who or what are you really trusting in?  After the 2008 financial collapse I had to ask myself, “Is my trust in the Lord or is it in our financial portfolio?  Is my faith in the God I preach about on Sunday mornings or is it in human solutions and human strength?”  The Scripture is very clear, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  That's the Biblical prescription for a life-anchor you can't lose. But that requires faith. So often when the test comes our first impulse is not “trust in the Lord” but it’s “how can I deal with this problem on my own.”  It's not until our best efforts to solve the problem are exhausted do we go beyond simply believing God to desperately needing God.  The last few months have pushed my spirit in the direction of “desperately needing God” and that’s a very good thing.

God tests our faith through trials, problems, pressures and tough circumstances.  1 Peter 1:6-7 says, "For a little while you have had to suffer great and all kinds of trials (tests). That’s a very powerful verse. The trials and difficulties that come into your life are there to test and deepen your faith. Nothing ever happens by accident in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Here’s one more promise that really applies to what we are going through. The Apostle Paul said this about the extreme hardships he was experiencing, "This happened, that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

I wonder if that's the most important lesson we can learn as we experience the coronavirus test; that we would release our tight grip on the wheel of our life and do what we should have been doing every day - "Jesus, take the wheel.”

Nobody likes to go through hard times. But God can use them to show us our weaknesses. And when that happens, we need to ask God to help our faith grow. Testing should make us stronger spiritually. The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials so that you may be mature and complete” (James 1:2, 4). The tests this side of heaven will never cease. And neither are the lessons we’ll learn. There’s meaning and hope in what you are experiencing today.

Pastor Jeff

The Sure Foundation and the Coronavirus Storm

When Judy and I lived on Martha’s Vineyard our children and grandchildren enjoyed vacationing on this beautiful island.  One of our favorite activities was going to Lucy Vincent Beach and building sandcastles. You should have seen the masterpieces we created. They were massive and detailed. We loved showing them off to the people strolling along the beach. On most occasions we carved out these works of art at low tide when there was a lot more sand to work with.  I’m sure you know what happened  When the tide came rolling in our beautiful sandcastles succumbed to the pounding of the waves. No matter how elaborate and strong the wall we built around our masterpieces, eventually they disappeared. Our sandcastles couldn't survive the onslaught of high tide.

We are all experiencing the high tide of the coronavirus. It has slammed into the economy we've built, businesses we've built, retirements we've built, relationships we've built, lives we've built, churches we’ve built.  I don’t know about you but it has been very disconcerting to find out how little control I have over my life. All the security we have tried to build is really a sandcastle.  It can be washed away in an instant. Yet maybe, the virus has done us a favor. Maybe we’ll realize how fragile life really is:  that the virus has motivated us to renew our faith in something that will never wash away.

In Luke 6 Jesus tells the story about two men who were each building a house. One on rock, the other on sand; side by side.  The first man was not satisfied with a shallow foundation. He dug deep. In fact, he dug so deep that he laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the water crashed against the house and could not shake it, because it had been built on a solid foundation (vs. 48).  Then Jesus talks about the other builder. He cut corners and built his house without a foundation (vs. 49). The two houses appeared the same on the outside. There were walls, doors, windows, and a roof. It is possible that the second builder’s house looked nicer from the outside than the other builder’s house. Outwardly, there was no significant difference between the two houses.  As long as the weather was good, both houses faired well. But the test eventually came. Jesus said, “When the storm broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” The house that had no foundation collapsed and its destruction was complete. Maybe that captures a little of how you've been feeling since the coronavirus storm hit.

But, according to Jesus, the man who built his house on the Rock, had a different outcome: "When a flood came, the torrent struck the house but could not shake it, because it was well built."  I’ve had my challenges in life.  What is my sure foundation?  It’s Jesus Christ who is also my anchor.  The Bible says, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:19). I want that foundation and anchor for you. God wants it even more for you. So much so that He sent His one and only Son to die for you and for me. The Scripture says, "He was crushed for our sins...and the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him" (Isaiah 53:5). Praise God that the Christian faith is not a religion that worships a dead Savior. Being a Christ-follower is about a relationship with the only Man who ever conquered death by blasting out of His grave - and that's Jesus.

Many times Judy and I have walked along Lucy Vincent Beach.  There is a rock on that stretch of sand that stands majestic and proud.  It’s twenty-two feet tall. For hundreds of years Nor’easters have slammed against this rock. Any yet, it still remains. Today, you can stand tall because Jesus Christ is your foundation. The coronavirus storm or any other storm can never wash you away.

Pastor Jeff

Finding Hope in the Mayhem

There is the story of a little boy whose Mom asked him one night to go and get the broom off the back porch. But it was dark and he was afraid. He didn't want to go outside to get the broom. She told Him God was everywhere which meant God was also on the back porch. The little boy fearfully opened the door just a tiny bit. He whispered through the small opening in the door and said, ''God, since you're already out there, would you mind handing me the broom?''

That little boy was afraid. We expect children to be afraid. Sometimes they are afraid of the dark. I was afraid of the dentist, my first grade teacher and the Russians.  When I was young I was convinced there was someone living under my bed.  Bedtime was not a pleasant experience for me. So, what were you afraid of when you were young?   As we grow older we often find that years don't make the fears go away. We just get fearful about different things.

Right now, many people are fearful of the coronavirus and its consequences.  The virus has caused schools and businesses to close, the stork market to head south, major world events and sports to be canceled, and our plans to be changed. When will Disney World reopen? I was supposed to marry my niece in New Jersey at the beginning of July.  Basically, the virus has rocked our world and our lives as never before.

Let me give you three reasons to have hope in the mayhem we are all experiencing.

First, This is no time for business as usual.  God has clearly stated in the Bible there will be very difficult times before Jesus returns (2 Tim. 3:1). In Luke 21 Jesus is teaching in the temple about his Second Coming. Some ask, “Master!  When will you return?” Jesus answers before I return, “nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, famines in many lands, epidemics, and terrifying things happening in the heavens” (vs. 10). And then Jesus says, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness of me.” Our Lord encourages us to not panic, be patient and bear witness (share our faith) of His love and salvation.

I believe the Lord is saying to those of us who belong to King Jesus, it’s time to move forward, not retreat. We need to live like heaven is my home and earth is just my hotel.  As believers we are merely passing through this life on our way to something far greater. While passing through the Lord calls all of His children to “bear witness” of our faith in Jesus so that those around us will be ready for eternity too.  Jesus has put us on this earth to represent Him so we can help people be in heaven with us someday.  It’s easy to cling to our comfort zone. There's a lost world for whom time is running out. This week, who is God leading you to tell how Jesus died for their many sins and offers them the gift of eternal life.

Second, "God's got this." I don’t like to throwing out clichés but God’s got this!  Isaiah says, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth...surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket" (Isaiah 40:22).  Psalm 11:3-4 says, "when the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne.”  The Lord gives many words of hope as we face all sorts of trials in our lives.

Let me say, no president, no prime minister, no army, no terrorists, no coronavirus will rule the future. The Lord of history “who is, and was, and who is to come” directs our future (Revelation 1:8).   God writes our destiny. When you place your life into His all-powerful hands you can watch the ever-turbulent news knowing your Father is still in charge. We are to live our lives with hope but not fear.

Third, you don't have to worry, but you do need to care.  We now live in a world with a lot of struggling people who don’t have money to pay for food. Stop by the FPC Food Pantry at 12:00 noon next Wednesday and see the many cars lined up to receive a bag of food from our faithful volunteers.  Jesus still says how we treat "the least of these" is how we're treating Him. So we can't just sit on our couch and watch the suffering. We can't fix the world. But we can let what breaks God's heart, break our heart enough to bear some of the burdens of a hurting world. May we carry these burdens to the Throne of God in prayer, and maybe spend less on ourselves so we can give something to help the “least of these.”

We are living in extraordinary times!  You can either sleep through or hide from them. Or you can play like “it's late in the game” and it is time to play for keeps.

Pastor Jeff

When Your Debt Disappears

It’s the time of year when colleges and universities normally have their graduation ceremonies.  Commencement speeches are made and the students receive their degrees. This year most commencements were done online. Guest speakers gave virtual speeches. Let me tell you about what happened last year in Atlanta at Morehouse College.

396 young men began the day as students in caps and gowns, ready to graduate.  They were full of hope but many were burdened with the debt that financed their education. Then Robert F. Smith, the commencement speaker and billionaire investor who founded Vista Equity Partners, told the crowd that he and his family would pay off the entire debt of the 2019 graduating class. In one breathtaking moment, Mr. Smith announced that his family was creating a grant that would pay the student loans of every graduate.  What a moment! The dreaded debt on the other side of the degree was suddenly gone. One graduate whose debt was $200,000 began jumping up and down shouting out loud, “I’m debt free! I’m debt free! Thank God!

You probably have never been to a graduation ceremony like that one.  I certainly haven’t. But I do know the exhilaration and joy of having my  debt removed in one blessed moment.  This is a much larger debt than any of those Morehouse College graduates could pay in a lifetime.

The proclamation by Jesus that set millions of believers free from the most overwhelming and crushing debt that all of us owe was made in three words…."It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus made that announcement as He died an undeserved death on the cross of Calvary. Those three words were just one word during the time of Christ. It is the word, “Tetelestai.” A few years ago archaeologists dug up a tax collectors office that was fully intact. There were two stacks and one of them had the word, “Tetelestai,” on the top. It means, “Paid in Full.”

In 1973 when I trusted Jesus as my Savior I began to understand that He paid the biggest and most consequential debt that I owe. It was a bill I couldn’t pay myself.  It’s a bill you can’t pay; none of us can.  The Bible describes the reason why we have such a massive debt with God. It says, "The wages of sin is death." Sin is a whole lot more than just breaking some Bible rules. It's running our life the way we want instead of doing what God wants us to do. It's my way instead of God's way. And the penalty is clear - it is death - separation from the God who made us, now and ultimately forever, and that's hell.

Before I became a Christian I knew why I did good things. I was the “good” youth kid that was asked from time to time to read the Scripture on Sunday morning. I knew why I said yes.  I was trying to earn God’s love and hoping to somehow pay down my moral debt.  I knew I was a “dirty” sinner.  We all are.  But we're so deep in our cosmic rebellion against God that will never be able to pay our sin debt.

I John 2:24 says, “He (Jesus) personally carried our sins in His body on the cross.”  All the hurtful and selfish things I've ever done; all the times I’ve stretched the truth; all the things that I thought I'd never do and I did; all the times I said one thing and did another (and I call myself a pastor)….“Paid in full” on the cross.  On that day when Jesus was crucified paying the debt for my sin, he might as well have been looking straight at me when He spoke those three liberating words…. ”It is Finished.”

Jesus has won my heart and millions of others because He paid the penalty for our sins on the cross.  All of our regrets, guilt, shame and the sin of a lifetime wiped clean…forgiven.  Our debt is erased and our eternity secure because of the person who walked out of the grave on Easter morning. We can stand and shout, “I’m debt free! I’m debt free!  Thank God!”

Pastor Jeff

The Big Pause

Three weeks ago we celebrated Easter.  It was an Easter we will never forget because we are living in the midst of the coronavirus.  Many worshiped in their car on the back lawn of the church.  Others worshiped online.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of our faith.  As the Scripture emphatically says in I Cor. 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (NAS).  Jesus is alive. He has risen.

As much as we enjoy and celebrate Easter morning, the resurrection of Jesus doesn't shield us from the grim reality of the casket, the hole in the ground, or the container that holds the ashes of our loved one. Easter doesn’t protect us from experiencing those emotional ambushes when we suddenly have gut-wrenching memories of one dearly departed. Easter doesn't stop the tears. But the reality of that empty tomb near a skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem is a game-changer for those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Easter means there is something on the other side of the grave, something more powerful. It’s called hope. Separation now, a reunion coming!

To be sure, other religions offer some form of hope beyond the grave. But they offer no real evidence that they can deliver on that hope. And then there's Jesus stepping into space and time. As thirty-four of us learned first hand during our recent trip to Israel, Jesus is real, he lived, died, and offers us, "a living hope…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).  Hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus after he came back from the grave. His disciples saw him after his death and they died martyrs deaths telling others about their resurrected Lord. And the power elite of government and religion, desperately exercised their power to prove Jesus wasn't alive - and couldn’t. We don’t have to speak of Jesus in the past tense.  He is alive now. He is our future. He is the one who offers you the gift of eternal life when you put your faith in Him.

In a recent Focus on the Family article by CEO Jim Daly, he shares this moving story about a young man in his late 30s who suddenly died of cardiac arrest, a condition attributed to the coronavirus.  On the day after Easter during a small ceremony, the pastor reminded Katie and her two children that because of Ron’s faith in the resurrected Jesus, he has taken off his earthly suit and his soul is now with the Lord in heaven. He shared that he now has a new address, “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

Katie understandably was stunned and grief-stricken by her husband’s sudden death. A couple of days after Ron’s Homecoming she looked at the photos on his cell phone that he had saved.  She was deeply touched. Katie saw the photos, but she also found something else – a note Ron had written her but never sent. It began: “I love you guys with all my heart and you’ve given me the best life I could have ever asked for. I am so lucky.  I am proud to be your husband and the father to Braedyn and Penny.”  He continues, “Katie you are the most beautiful, caring, nurturing person I’ve ever met. You are truly one of a kind...make sure you live life with happiness and the same passion that made me fall in love with you. Seeing you be the best mom to the kids is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.”

What a gift from the grave.  This story got me thinking.  If I suddenly died, Judy would be filled with grief and yet be rejoicing that I am with the Lord because I know the God who came out of the grave on Easter morning. And what would Judy find on my cell phone?  Would she find only a series of work related text messages or would she find lots of loving texts and notes between the two of us, as well as between my kids, grandkids and me? It may seem kind of strange to write a “last letter” to a loved one, but have you ever considered doing it?  If you have considered it, what would you say?

The coronavirus has been called by some the “Big Pause.”  Why don’t you pause and spend some time today or tomorrow praying about how the Lord may use you to touch the life of your loved ones.  Easter 2020 has come and gone.   May your days ahead be a reflection of Christ’s love in you, for your family, friends, and those in your church family.

Pastor Jeff

Candy Land and Another Virus

We are living in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.  Every day we deal with the effects of the coronavirus.  We are told, “Stay at home and stay 6 feet away from others.”  These are difficult days.  As humans, we often forget the difficult days that came before us.  In the late1940s and early 1950s, thousands of people, many of them children, were infected with the polio virus. In 1952, 60,000 Americans got the virus and 3000 of them died, a disproportionate number of them children. Thousands were paralyzed and hospitalized. Some lived for months in coffin-like iron lungs. Parents were allowed to visit their child only once a month. My best friend, Richard Levine, got the virus and struggled for years with muscle atrophy and joint weakness.

As bad as the numbers were, the fear of this disease was massive, and disproportionate.  “Polio panic” was common because the disease hit children so badly and was so poorly understood.  Parents kept their kids inside during the summer months when the virus was most active. Swimming pools were closed and social distancing was in effect at movie theaters.

Eleanor Abbott was diagnosed with polio in 1948.  A retired schoolteacher, she entered a San Diego hospital. During her convalescence, she was surrounded by children suffering from the same horrible disease. She wanted to create a game that would entertain them during their painful and lonely days. What did she invent? - Candy Land.  Abbott’s intent was to invent a game that helped entertain all the children left alone in hospitals without their parents.  She wanted to help them overcome feelings of abandonment and homesickness. As you know Candy Land is a game that requires no reading or writing, only the ability to identify colors. During the height of the polio epidemic in the 1950s, children were prohibited from congregating at public pools, lakes, or parks to prevent the spread of the disease. Candy Land could be played by children who were confined indoors alone.

This board game became so popular among the young hospital patients that Abbott decided to pitch it to Milton Bradley, a leading toy-manufacturing company. It quickly became their best-selling game. What did Eleanor Abbott do with all the money she made from her royalty income? She donated it all to charities dedicated to serving children in need.

I really liked playing Candy Land as a youngster. I didn’t like playing it with our three kids. Why didn’t I like playing it?  By design, the game takes forever to play. You go around and around these rainbow squares without making much progress. Picking the wrong card sends you back to the beginning or to the middle of the board. You zip over a Rainbow Trail that shoots you forward 20 squares. Then you get stuck in a Molasses Swamp for 10 turns while your four-year-old moves past you and makes it to the Gingerbread House with the “Home Sweet Home” sign. He wins.  The game is finally over. Praise the Lord!

Judy and I haven’t played Candy Land with our children for over thirty years. Here’s what I hope we communicated to them by playing this game. “Ken, Kelly, Kyle, it’s a little thing for us to play Candy Land with you. We know you really enjoy playing this game. You are valuable and important and we are playing this game because we love you.  What matters to you matters to us.”

I believe God cares about us like that.  He cares about the little things in our life. If we believe He cares about the little things, we will be bold enough to ask Him to give us those things.  And when He provides those little things, we need to be grateful to Him for “every good gift and every perfect gift,” which “is from above, comes down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17).

During these days of “staying at home” may you thank the Lord for the little things in your life because they are gifts from God.  That phone call from a friend, a beautiful sunset, the rain we recently had, a long walk, completing a puzzle, a Facetime conversation with a loved one, groceries delivered to your door, a Bible verse that inspired you, a good night’s rest are all gifts from our Heavenly Father. May your heart be filled with gratitude for the little things God provides each day.

Pastor Jeff

Once life gets back to some normalcy, I’d be interested in playing a game of Candy Land with you…for old time sake.

Covid-19 and God’s Judgment

During the past month I have been asked, “Is Covid-19 the judgment of God against sinners?”   This question reminded me of a man who asked me right after 9/11 if what happened in New York City is a demonstration of God’s wrath?  How do you answer these questions?

On Sunday, December 26, 2004 a tsunami originating in the Indian Ocean killed 230,000 people.  It was the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history. Many Christians worshiping in their local church were swept away. Jesus could have stopped this natural disaster but he didn’t.

This tragedy prompts me to look at Luke 13.  Some people approach Jesus. They were deeply concerned about “certain Galilean Jews whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices” (vs.1). It seems that Pilate’s troops had surrounded and slaughtered a number of visiting Galileans as they were worshipping in the temple. The text says nothing about the actual massacre. The crowds want to know from Jesus, just like I’ve been asked about Covid-19 and 9/11, “Okay Jesus, make sense of this. Tell us what you think about these natural disasters and this cruelty. These people were just standing there, and now they’re dead.”

Jesus’ answer was totally unexpected: “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (vss. 2-5).

The people who approached Jesus thought these tragedies must be God’s judgment on a certain population of “dirty rotten sinners.” They must have perished because of their awful sin. “No,” Jesus replied, “Unless you repent, you too will perish in your sin.” Jesus’ answer surprised them and exposed their sinful hearts.

We, like the folks who brought this question to Jesus, sometimes get fixated on first causes. When people suffer catastrophe we may think they must somehow deserve it. But personal tragedy is no more an indication of wrong-doing then the absence of tragedy is an indication of personal righteousness. Whether our lives are tragic or tranquil we are all, as Martin Luther preached, “dust and ashes and full of sin.” All of us are in need of repentance.

I believe all natural disasters have the goal of repentance and restoration. In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, God said to Solomon, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Here we see God using a natural disaster to draw people to Himself and to bring about repentance. This is what I see playing out in the pandemic we are all experiencing.

So, what is repentance?  It is “to change one’s mind.” The word repentance in the Old Testament is shuv, which means, “to turn around.” It occurs in the Song of Songs to describe the Shulamite’s dance as she twirls around: shuvi, shuvi— "turn around, turn around” ( Song 6:13). In both the Old and New Testaments the word repentance means "changing one’s mind about the direction you’re going, turning around and going in another direction.”

Repentance does not require tears (though sometimes we may cry). It is the recognition deep within ourself that we have been going in the wrong direction, doing our own thing. Also, repentance is more than just “changing your mind.” The Bible tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent, turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 2:30). The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

I believe the most important message God is telling you and our world is, “Repent.”  Repent, and turn from your sins.  Repent and seek God’s mercy to bring your life into alignment with Scripture and His infinite worth.  And remember what it says in 2 Peter 3:9 to anyone who is not a Christian, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  Today, God may be prompting you to repent of your sins and to trust Jesus as your Savior.  You may want to pray this prayer.

Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and ask You to come in as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my many sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.

Pastor Jeff

We Need Spiritual Heart Surgery

David Letterman was one of the kings of late-night television. He received a big break when he began appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Letterman is best known for his gap-toothed self-mockery and somewhat cynical sense of humor. In his twenties he worked in Indianapolis as a radio talk-show host where his brand of humor was already evident. One night he upset his boss when he congratulated a tropical storm on being upgraded to a hurricane. His offbeat sense of humor gave him a prime-time spot for many years on late-night TV.  But one day everybody stopped laughing. Letterman went into the hospital for a routine cardiac test. Suddenly, he was rushed into surgery by his doctor and had a quintuple heart bypass. In typical Letterman fashion, the recovering patient joked that "in addition to rerouting the arteries, they also installed an E-Z pass.”

If you’ve read your Bible, you know that everyone has a heart problem. God says our Spiritual heart "...is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jeremiah 17:9). Then God says, "I the Lord search the heart" (Jeremiah 17:10). He knows all the darkness we've tried to cover up ever since we were born.  His Spiritual EKG exposes every sin, every lie you've ever told, every adulterous thought or relationship, all the anger, all the selfishness, all the prejudice, bitterness, everything you're ashamed of, and everything you wish you hadn't done.

I have been a pastor for a long time.  Early on I thought the occurrence of sin in a local church was minimal, members are kind and wonderful, and that most believers were Christ-like in their behavior.  Then I went through a building campaign, preached on difficult texts like abortion, homosexuality, and predestination, began to lead elder meetings, sat through other meetings trying to determine the color of the new sanctuary carpet, and listened to endless arguments about what is more worshipful, traditional or contemporary music?  And on a few occasions I took an unpopular stand on a controversial subject.    I found out that sometimes nice church folks aren’t always nice.

I wish someone told me during my seminary days that I should prepare myself to be committed to Jesus and His church in spite of the dark side of the human heart.  But then again, maybe someone told me but I was too young and immature to understand.  I can’t tell you the number of times people have shared with me they wanted a career change because they were tired of working “in the world.” They wanted to work in a place where their coworkers are believers and everyone loved one another. They’d say, “I’m tired of the struggle and the politics  trying to maintain my witness in a secular workplace. Can you direct me Pastor Jeff to a job in a Christian ministry?” And I will lovingly say, “Are you crazy? There is no place that you can work that is free of sin. If you like Christian organizations and the local church, it’s better if you don’t work there.”  There is nothing more dangerous than an unrealistic view of the human heart. When we live in denial of the dark side of human nature, we can get hurt needlessly, be easily conned, and have no appreciation of Jeremiah 17:9, where it says “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

What has given me hope for so many years is the promise of God’s Word in Ezekiel 36:26 where God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you.”  In other words, God wants to give you and me a heart transplant, a whole new perspective on life, and a whole new power to change.  He wants to forgive you and me of our many sins and remove the sin that has clogged our hearts for so long. It took His Son, Jesus, dying for our sins to make this miracle possible. And then Jesus walked out of His grave on Easter Sunday to prove He can give us eternal life.

David Letterman needed heart surgery.  We need Spiritual heart surgery.  We need to daily thank God for the new life he gave us the moment we said “Yes” to Jesus and invited Him to live inside of us. And we need to ask God to continually “cut away” the sinful inclinations that hold us back from being his faithful child. Jesus wants to change you from the inside out. Spiritual surgery hurts but the end product is being a believer that looks a lot more like God’s Son. Right now, go to the Lord in prayer and ask him to cut out of your heart anything that holds you back from being His faithful servant.  You may need to do this repeatedly until you see a particular sin begin to diminish.  Spiritual surgery through prayer takes work.  May the Lord give you His strength as you pursue a life that reflects more and more the character of Christ flowing out of you.

Pastor Jeff

 

Focusing on What is Ahead

On Sanctity of Life Sunday in January our granddaughter Katelyn shared her testimony being born at 1 pound 9 ounces. Her grandparents were very proud of Katelyn speaking four times about the importance of protecting life starting at conception. Almost twenty-one years ago I remember when Katelyn had her first birthday and her parents turned her car seat around. For twelve months Katelyn was facing backwards in the back seat.  Now that she weighed twenty pounds her car seat was pointing forward.  She could see where she was going instead of where she had been.

Katelyn was a lot happier and content looking forward than looking backward. Sadly, many people, instead of looking forward, spend a lot of time looking at where they have been.  They dwell on their hurts, injustices, broken relationships, and bad decisions.  They keep going through the rolodex of their mind thinking about past failures, past sins, and past mistakes. They seem to keep dragging the past into their present.

God’s Word has something important to tell us about facing the future.  Isaiah 43:18 says, ”Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

God says very clearly, stop looking backward - focus on what is ahead.  Why? Because the past can't be changed. If you only focus on what can't be changed you end up in paralyzing self-pity, bitterness, despair, and depression. Focusing on the past is a recipe for hopelessness.  In the past month because of Covid-19 we have lost some of our freedom. We can not do what we want to do, go where we want to go, be with who we want to be with.  Life is harder than it was four weeks ago. Nobody likes what we are experiencing.  But, if we keep dwelling on the way it used to be you will miss the new thing God is doing in your life today.

I want to encourage you, on behalf of the Lord of new beginnings, to make today the day you choose to close the chapters of your past and thank God for the present and how He can use you in the future. If you've taken your sin to Jesus' cross and been forgiven, your past is no longer an issue to our Savior.  You are forgiven. So, who are you to keep digging up your past over and over again?

Let today be the day you claim a fresh new beginning from the Lord Jesus. God designed and created you to live forward. God refuses to live 5 minutes ago, because there are too many things He has for you now. Release all the darkness and pain of your past to the One who died to liberate you from it. And focus on all the new things God is going to do in your life.

Paul said in Phil. 3:13-14, “Brothers and sisters, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  This is an analogy of a runner describing the spiritual growth of a Christ follower. The prize is heaven.

You know that little girl in the car seat that has faced both ways?  We can learn something from her. You'll be a lot more content looking at what's ahead of you than what's already behind you!

Pastor Jeff

 

A Post-Easter Devotional

We just celebrated Easter Sunday, a “no frills” celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. People sitting in two hundred and sixteen cars came to our outdoor Drive-In service. They joined millions of Christians around the world who worshiped in front of their computer or I-Phone singing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Though sanctuaries were empty, the tomb where Jesus was buried was also empty. That’s great news. Jesus has risen from the dead.

It’s baseball season and no one is playing or watching any games.   I like the story of the man who was walking down the street. He came upon a Little League game. He saw one of the players near the fence and asked him, “What’s the score?” The little boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind.” "Oh my," said the man, "That’s discouraging.” The little boy looked at the man and with a confident smile said, “Sir, we haven't gotten up to bat yet!” The young boy remains hopeful.

I like that story because hope is in short supply these days. Maybe that's why Bible publishers are reporting that the buying of Bibles is off the charts. Google says there has been a huge uptick of online searches for information on the word “prayer” and “savior.” When we are experiencing the storm (Covid-19), we look for hope that is bigger than the storm.

The Apostle Paul, was literally at the end of his rope. Storms were raging. He writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, "We were under great pressure...beyond our ability to endure...we despaired even of life...in our hearts we felt the sentence of death" Paul, that’s a tough place to be. A rather deep pit. But do you know what he found in this pit? A ladder. A ladder out. Paul experienced Jesus, the one who crushed death. Paul writes, "But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." When we are down by eighteen runs, when we feel helpless, when we feel dead inside, look to Jesus. He is your death-reversing Savior!

In a world where we can “delete” friends on Facebook, where loneliness is an epidemic and our “go to” anchors often melt away,  the promise of the resurrected Jesus is a hope that can’t be lost.  Heb. 13:5 says, "Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” Because Jesus walked out of His grave, we have eternal hope.

Pastor Jeff

Good Friday Pushing the Delete Button

When you look at family photographs (Judy and I have taken a lot of them), who do you look for first?   You look for yourself.  When you see yourself in the picture you may groan and moan because your eyes are shut or your head is cockeyed.  Now you can take a selfie.  If you don’t like what you see, you push the delete button.

Mel Gibson filmed the “Passion of the Christ.” I remember when the movie came out there was some controversy about who killed the Son of God. Some say the Jews. Some say the Romans. But if you read the Bible, I believe you will conclude that you and I killed Christ.  When Gibson depicted the portrayal of a Roman soldier driving the nails into Jesus' hands, Gibson asked the actor to step aside so his hand would be the one nailing Jesus to the cross. He describes why he used his hand. ”It was me who put Him on the cross. It was my sins.”  I agree with Mel Gibson.  I Peter 2:24 says, "He carried our sins in His own body on the tree.”  This verse is about me.  It’s about every rotten, sinful, prideful, selfish thing I have ever done; a lifetime of rebellion against my Lord and Savior.

When I read the Good Friday story I picture myself in the text. I moan and groan because I see myself in the face of Barabbas. I don’t like what I see.   I wish I could push the delete button, but I can’t.  And then I’m reminded of Matthew 27:20, where the religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus “persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.”  Barabbas was set free.  Jesus went to the cross.

Though the biblical text doesn’t say this, I picture Barabbas walking up Calvary’s Hill. He stops and stares at the face of Jesus, brutalized beyond recognition.  Barabbas cries out, “Jesus, you are hanging on my cross. I’m the one who should be nailed to that tree. But because you are about to die, Jesus, I don’t have to die. I am so thankful for what you did for me.”

This is the most important truth in Scripture  It’s the Doctrine of Imputation. The punishment and judgment I so deserve because of my sin, Jesus took upon Himself.  Isaiah 53:5-6 says,”He (Jesus) was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins and the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.”  You and I are Barabbas.  Jesus is the one who “became sin for us” and paid the penalty we deserve.

Years ago, the rock star Billy Joel shared these thoughts about Jesus and the cross.   He said, “I wasn't raised Catholic, but I used to go to mass with my friends, and I viewed the whole business as a lot of very enthralling hocus pocus. There's a guy, nailed to a cross, dripping blood, and everyone's blaming themselves for that man's torment, but I said to myself, Forget it. I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin. There's no blood of any sacred martyr on my hands. I pass on all of this.”

Oh my Billy Joel, you can sing but you don’t know what you are talking about. This rock legend has the mindset of the lost which says, “I pass on this. I don’t need the blood of Jesus. I can do this all on my own.”  The heart of a non-believer doesn’t want somebody else dying for them because they’ve done enough good in their lives. They’re convinced they have done more good than bad, that they can buy a place in heaven, and their self-righteousness will earn them a spot in the heavenly choir.

But the Bible clearly says, neither you nor I will ever be good enough to make it into heaven. There’s nothing we can do to buy even a small part of heaven. The story of Jesus dying for Barabbas drives home the fact that Barabbas was just like us… unworthy of being saved.

Today is Good Friday. When I read the story of the cross I envision the pain and agony that Christ experienced. I hear the screams of the crowds and the laughter of the Roman soldiers. I hear the sound of a thud as the cross hits the ground. I see the sight of soldiers tossing a tired beaten man on top of that cross. Perhaps the most ear shattering sound of all, the hammers hitting the nails.  And what did Jesus do?  Nothing.  And we call this Good Friday?  Maybe we should call it Bad Friday.

But it is Good Friday because when you repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, Almighty God forgives you of your many sins and you become His beloved child.  You go to the cross dirty but you come away clean.  You go to the cross with a death penalty hanging over your head but you come away with eternal life because of three words Jesus says before he dies, “You are forgiven.”

Isn’t it wonderful to know that when you trust Christ as Savior, God takes a picture of you that he will never delete. He carries the picture close to His heart. It’s a picture of you being cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.

Pastor Jeff

What Happened on Tuesday?

Pastor Charles Swindoll writes, “During Holy Week, we wave palms in the air and hail Jesus as king, the long-awaited messiah who’s going to save us, then we change our minds and scream that the Romans should crucify him; we share a loving last supper with Jesus and he washes our feet, then we sneak out after dinner and betray him. Jesus begs us to stay with him, we promise we will, then we don’t. We abandon him, he’s arrested and beaten; he forgives us, then we run away. Then Jesus is killed; we lay him in the tomb and weep; we go back for him, he’s gone, he’s back, and then — wait! — he's not dead at all.” In the midst of the great pandemic we may forget that it is Holy Week. Let me share what happened on Tuesday.

After a dramatic Monday when Jesus cleansed the Jerusalem temple of all the money changers, he and his disciples returned to Jerusalem. The chief priests and scribes meet him at the gate preventing him from going back into the temple where he disrupted the marketplace the day before. The religious leaders were upset at Jesus for establishing himself as a spiritual authority. They organized an ambush with the intent to place him under arrest. But Jesus evaded their traps and pronounced harsh judgment on them, saying: "Blind guides!...For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness… Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” (Matthew 23:24-33).

The religious leaders are working overtime to publicly discredit Jesus because he has become such a popular figure. They confront Jesus with endless questions and attempts to make him look foolish, crazy, or both. Has anyone ever tried to do that to you? This is a classic example of powerful elites trying everything than can to eliminate a threat to their authority. Jesus stays composed and teaches the people about the Kingdom of God.

He taught..…

* He is the divine Son of God

* God creates, man sins, God sends, and God will be coming back to judge

* He will reign forever in a perfect, covenant-keeping relationship with his people

* The Greatest Commandment is love God and love your neighbor

* Generosity is not about the amount you give, but the amount you sacrifice

Later that afternoon Jesus left the city and went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, which sits due east of the Temple and overlooks Jerusalem. Last year the tour group I led stayed at the Mt. Zion Hotel situated on top of the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, an elaborate prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age. He speaks in parables, using symbolic language about the end times, his Second Coming and the final judgment. The Bible also says that on Tuesday Judas Iscariot negotiated with the Sanhedrin, the religious Supreme Court, to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:14-16).

We have this day in the middle of Holy Week to remind us of the real struggles Jesus faced before he went to the cross. That means our Savior can relate to all our circumstances in life, even the coronavirus. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and temptations (Hebrews 4:15). He is able to identify with our stress and daily dramas.

Today, find joy in the way your Savior victoriously handled all of these challenges. Trust Him with your life in every way, which includes what will happen today. Spend time in prayer, thanking Him for His authority and truth. Praise Him for overcoming all obstacles before he was crucified.

Pastor Jeff

Taming the Buckin-Bronco Inside of You

The movie, "The Horse Whisperer." starring Robert Redford, came to the big screen in 1998.  When I first heard about the movie I thought it was about a Montana farmer who had laryngitis. Actually, it’s about a man who had this uncanny ability to tame wild horses that no one else could tame.  He used body language and quiet whispers to tame a horse that otherwise would be uncontrollable.

In Luke 19 Jesus tells two of his disciples, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a donkey tied there, which no one has ever ridden (the donkey is untamed). They brought him to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the donkey and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.” This text highlights Palm Sunday, the day Jesus road into Jerusalem on the back of an untamed donkey.

Three weeks ago I was riding in a tour bus that was moving up the side of a mountain heading toward Jerusalem.  Everyone on the bus was deeply touched as our tour guide played the “Holy City.”  I looked out my window trying to envision Jesus riding up this same mountain, 3800 feet above sea level, on the back of a donkey with hundreds of people waving palm branches celebrating his arrival.

I don’t want you to miss this.  Jesus is riding an untamed donkey through a massive crowd.  People are yelling his name. They keep throwing palm branches and other things in his path.  Jesus is riding on the back of a long-eared version of a buckin-bronco. Yet the donkey is gentle as a lamb.

I think this might be the overlooked miracle of Palm Sunday. With Jesus on board, this wild and untamed donkey just isn't wild. Even when they're passing through surging crowds of "loud voices", the Bible says that this unbroken donkey doesn't bolt, doesn't freak out.

Now get this!  Jesus has the power to tame what has never been tamed.  Jesus can tame the buckin-bronco inside of you and me called a sinful heart.  He teaches us that there is something far more fundamental to our sinfulness than the actual sins we commit. Our sins do not make us sinful. Rather, we commit sins because at the very center of our lives, we are sinful.

Failure to accept our Lord’s teaching at this point inevitably leads us to locate sin outside of ourselves.  So often we are quick to blame others for our failures and shortcomings. We sometimes use the “if-only” rationale to excuse our sin. “If only I had been raised differently…I had a better job…you hadn’t made me so mad…my husband would listen to me…my church was more loving….”  The list is endless. But no circumstance, other person, or activity can ever justify my sin. This is the untamed heart that lives inside of all us.

The only way to deal with an untamed heart is by having our hearts changed.  My heart was changed forty-six years ago when I trusted Christ as my Savior. The Gospel changes our hearts. God does not call us merely to stop sinning. He calls us to be transformed from within. And He provides such transformation through the power of the Gospel.

This Jesus, who one week after Palm Sunday blew death away, has the power to conquer the untamed heart in all of us. In the midst of these difficult days, the Bible radiates hope of taming our sinful hearts with this promise from Romans 6:14-18,  "Sin shall not be your master...you have been set free from sin.”  God is whispering in your ear right now, “Go deeper in your walk with me and I will tame your heart.”

Pastor Jeff

 

Taking the Elevator Up

I grew up ninety minutes from New York City. I could leave my home in Cherry Hill, NJ, drive onto the New Jersey Turnpike, head north, and be in Manhattan in an hour and half. Once my car was parked I could either navigate around the hundreds of people hustling down busy sidewalks or I could find a Manhattan skyscraper and take an elevator ride to the top.  Walking along a busy New York City street, I felt stressed. On top of a 65-story skyscraper looking down at the busy streets, I experienced peace.

In a way, those are two views of the coronavirus crisis. One view is the stress you feel when you listen to the news reports about the mounting death toll. The other view is from “higher up.” This is where you get a glimpse of the majesty and sovereignty of God and how he views our situation. We can experience God’s peace when we look at this messy world from His perspective. So, when I feel worried I need to take the “elevator” to a place that is far above the worries and cares of this world. My elevator is prayer. The “higher up” is God’s love and presence.

In I Chronicles 29, David sings praises to his God. He says, “Praise be to you Lord, the God of our Father Israel from everlasting to everlasting. Yours Lord is the greatness and power and glory and majesty and splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.”

This passage means that our God is incomprehensible; that He is not a God of confusion but of order. He is altogether good, altogether holy, and altogether sovereign. He chooses to rule according to what pleases Him. God is never pleased to will or to do anything that is evil or contrary to His own goodness. I can find peace knowing that my God wishes for, and has the power to bring about, all good things for me and His children even in the midst of this pandemic.

When Ken, Kelly and Kyle were little, Judy and I would cut their meat into manageable bite-size chunks. With this monster called Covid-19 breathing down our necks, those "chunks" are called days. As you know, God calls us to live one day at a time. The Lord tells us to pray for “our daily bread.” Scripture says that God’s mercies are “new every morning.” We begin to fret and worry when we drag the burdens of tomorrow into our today. God has designed us to live life one day at a time and not worry about what might happen tomorrow, next week, or next year.

As you face the effects of the coronavirus in the days ahead, remember to take the “elevator” up, that’s prayer, into the throne room of God to see our sin-stained and virus infected world from God’s perspective. Knowing that God is in charge and this virus has not caught Him by surprise should lead you to trust in Him more and to declare the words of the author of the Book of Hebrews: The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What will man (Covid-19) ever do to me? (Heb. 13:6).

I remain daily in prayer for you.

Pastor Jeff

We are Experiencing Scary Times

I can remember taking our family on some camping trips in the Colorado mountains. After an eventful day of hiking, eating smores, and playing games we would settle down in our pop-up camper. As soon as the lights went out, one of our children would need to use the facilities. However, the dark path through the woods to the bathroom was scary. It was a scary walk until they found my hand. Once they were holding Dad's hand they could walk through the darkness with courage.

We are experiencing some "scary" times as we move through the coronavirus pandemic. No one knows what is around the corner for us personally, our family, our church, our world. God has a wonderful promise to keep our feet moving on the scary road He put us on.

I Thessalonians 5:24 says, "The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it." Your Heavenly Father says, "Listen, I put you on this road. I know it feels scary but take hold of My hand. I'm going to lead you and to take care of you all along the way."

You're not the first child of God that He's led on a path that's full of uncertainty. He did it with His children, the Israelites, where they spent 40 years in the wilderness. Our Israel Tour Group of 34 recently saw the Jordan River that the Israelites passed through into the Promised Land after their 40-year camping trip. Listen to Moses' summary of what God does for us when He is leading us into the unknown. "Do not be terrified...the Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you. In the desert you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries His son...He went ahead of you on your journey...to show you the way you should go" (Deut. 1:29-32)

That's your guarantee. As Pastor and Author Max Lucado writes, "You can keep walking confidently into the unknown because your Father is committed to coach you as to where to step next, to carry you when you can't go any farther, to cover you with His protection from harm, and to care for you, providing every need."

No matter how dark the road ahead looks and no matter how scared you feel, would you grab hold of your Father's hand and walk in the direction He is leading.

Remembering You in Prayer,

Pastor Jeff