Daily Devotion December 2020

12/31/20


Good morning. Welcome to New Year’s Eve.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/gtFG6GfjTQ8



Complete the Verse & Name the BookPeople may be right in their own eyes, but . . . (completion at the end)



We will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights concerning evangelizing the Jews.


The two great divisions between Christians and Jews were whether or not the Messiah had come, and whether or not the Law had to be kept. The problem of the Law raised an enormous barrier to evangelism. The Jew would have four main grievances under this head. In the first place, his status as Israel had been appropriated by the Christians. This followed naturally from their convictions about Jesus as Messiah. If he was Messiah, his followers must be the true Israel. It was as simple as that. The Messiah was inconceivable apart from his flock. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, and his people were therefore heirs to all its promises. This meant that those Jews who did not put their faith in Jesus were renegades from the true Israel. 


The refusal of Israel to acknowledge their Messiah was a mark, surely, of divine displeasure and judgment on them; it was evidence of judicial blindness, such as Isaiah had spoken of long ago. Isaiah 6:8-10 says:


Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people: “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”


A second grievance the Jews felt was the Christians had stolen their Scriptures. For example, in Isaiah 65:2 where it says, “I spread out my hands to a rebellious people,” became the words of Christ referring to his crucifixion. Psalm 3:5 alludes to his death and resurrection with the words, “I lay down and slept and rose again, because the Lord sustained me.” Passages which in the Old Testament refer to Yahweh are unashamedly applied to Jesus in the New.


The third complaint a Jew had against the Christians was they broke God’s Law. Jesus had done it, in the first instance: he had taken staggering liberties with the Sabbath day; he had set himself up to modify the Torah; he had not been too careful about avoiding ceremonial defilement or relations with Gentile “dogs” and, of course, he had died a death accursed by the Law. Worse still his followers had repudiated the duly constituted priesthood of Israel, set up rival synagogues, read other contemporary books alongside the Law and the Prophets, enjoyed table fellowship with Gentiles, and maintained that even so sacred a pledge of Israel as circumcision availed nothing with God.


The Christian attitude to the Jewish Law was varied. But all seem to have agreed that the goal of the Law was Christ. The Law was not against the promises of God, but was put in charge to lead us to Christ. Law cannot put any man in the right with his maker, for two good reasons. The first is that nobody can possibly keep it for a day, let alone all his life; and no “works of supererogation” tomorrow can make up for my failures today. But even if they could, this whole approach to a personal, moral God would be insufferable. God looks for loving trust in his creatures, not a cold, legalistic totting up of merits in the heavenly ledger. Thus it is against the Law as a means of reconciliation with God that Paul contends so strongly. He promoted a personal relationship with God through Christ. He saw Christ as the goal of the Law. Through the death of Christ, he was now free to fulfill the Law of Christ, and love his neighbor as himself. 


The Church was becoming increasingly Gentile, and increasingly antipathetic to Judaism and its Law and cultus. Within the first century there is still the hope of winning Israel; though violent at times, the Christian approach was inflamed by love for them and longing to see them acknowledging their Messiah. By the successive turning points of the Great Revolt, the Thirteenth Benediction and the Bar Cochba Rising, this attitude had changed to one of hatred and antipathy. It was no longer evangelism among the Jews but apologetic against the Jews which interested Christians.


There was one further exasperation for the Jew. Christians spiritualized his sacred rites. It was a fair complaint. Sabbath, circumcision, sacrifice, priests, temple, all were dispensed with by the early Christians, or at the most regarded as optional extras of increasingly doubtful orthodoxy. By the time of Jerome it was plain that those who wanted to be both Jews and Christians were in fact neither Jews nor Christians. The seeds of this sad division lay once again in the heart of the New Testament itself, and indeed in the teaching and practice of Jesus. He lived and died a Jew, and attended Temple and synagogue; but he taught that he himself was the New Temple, promised by God long ago to David. 


The Jews might say, “You Christians have no priests, no sacrifices, no altar, no temple, no circumcision.” To this the answer would run, “Indeed we have. We have a temple not made with hands, the temple of Christ’s body in which we are incorporate. We have a great High Priest who has gone into heaven itself, there to appear on our behalf and indeed as our forerunner. We have an altar of which you cannot partake, for you still worship the shadow, not the reality. Your sacrifices are ineffective: they can never bring the worshippers to God. But we are brought near through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God, and we now offer, as the redeemed, sacrifices of praise thanksgiving, our money and ourselves which are acceptable to God in a way yours can never be, for they spring from a wrong relationship with him. As for circumcision, we have a circumcision made without hands, fulfilling that inner circumcision of the heart praised by the prophets. We have been baptized into the circumcision of Christ, the total putting away of sin which he achieved on the cross; from now on physical circumcision is a secondary matter.”



Verse Completion. . . the LORD examines their heart. Proverbs 21:2 (NLT)


12/30/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/qPRFk8sLIPw



Complete the Verse and Name the BookDo all things without . . . (completion at the end)



We will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights concerning evangelizing the Jews.


Judaism declared priests would come from the tribe of Levi, and Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, so he couldn’t be a priest. However, this argument cold be circumvented. Jesus was of an entirely different order, instanced by Melchisedek who was priest as well as king, and demonstrated his superiority over the Levitical priesthood by the twofold means of accepting tithes from Levi and blessing him . . . “and it is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior”. Striding onto the scene in Genesis “without father or mother . . . he has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever.” That is the priesthood to which Christ belongs; and if the readers, perhaps themselves Levitical priests, felt disposed to dismiss Melchisedek  as an early anomaly they find themselves impaled on Psalm 110:4. This Psalm recognized as Messianic, looks to the Messiah as priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek. And the Messianic priest, Jesus, has many advantages which the writer to the Hebrews outlines in full, advantages which no human priest can match. He is sinless, he lives forever, and he has once and for all made the lasting sacrifice for sins, when he took responsibility for them in person on Calvary. He also has a future role when he comes in judgment at the Parousia. 


The Jews might ask, “Does your Jesus fill the role of the Son of Man? When Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man incarnate, the Son of Man embodied in a humble carpenter rather than a heavenly judge, this was news to them. There is nothing about an incarnation of the Son of Man in pre-Christian thought. 


There was another staggering way in which Jesus modified all previous understanding of the glorious figure of the Son of Man who would come to judge the world. He taught that the Son of Man must suffer, and rise again from the dead; in short, he must fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant, and give his life as a ransom for the many. This was an unheard of thing in Judaism. The Son of Man represented the highest conception of glorification; the Servant represented the nadir of degradation. It was the genius of Jesus that joined these two conceptions together. He showed by his teaching and his passion the royalty of service, the grandeur of vicarious suffering. 


A fair-minded Jew might have been able to accept the idea of a suffering Messiah, but the point of division came at the manner of Jesus’ death, the crucifixion. What they could not accept was how the Messiah could die so disgracefully and so dishonorably. Such a death was a stumbling-block because it indicated weakness in the supposed Messiah. To the Christian, his death was far from being an act of weakness; the cross was the supreme act of power in Jesus’ life. It was there that he met and defeated the forces of evil. The cross is the power of God; it was there he disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. But the crowning demonstration that the cross was victory not defeat was provided by the resurrection. It’s Jesus who fulfills Psalm 110:1: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Here is proof positive that after the resurrection Jesus ascended to the place of power with God.


The virgin birth was not in the earliest days that crucial item of the creed which later it became. Far more fundamental to the Jew’s objection was the Christian belief that Jesus shared the nature of God. Nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus unambiguously declared to be God. Certain passages, like John 1:1 (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God), Colossians 2:9 (For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form), Hebrews 1:1-3 ff (In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven . . .), certainly go near to identifying him with God, but always the Christians are careful to remember the humanity of Jesus and the subordination which that brings with it. However, the earliest and most widespread Christological confession seems to have been “Jesus is Lord.”



Verse Completion. . . grumbling or disputing. Philippians 2:14 (NASB)


12/29/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/qPRFk8sLIPw



Complete the Verse & Name the BookThe LORD directs our steps, so . . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Del McKenzie continued his series on “Godly Character Qualities” with the topic of loyalty. So far he has taught on gentleness, humility, integrity, endurance, responsibility, thankfulness, forgiveness, acceptance, and generosity.


2 Peter 3:10-12a says: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.


Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.


What kind of people ought we to be? We need to be like Jesus and have character qualities like his.


Are you a loyal person? Does loyalty characterize your life? We cannot have godly character unless we have the character quality of loyalty. 


Loyalty is much needed these days. Instant gratification leads to using people instead of being loyal to them. People use organizations instead of being loyal to them. 


Jesus was a loyal person; Peter was not. Three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus never abandoned anyone or tossed them aside. 


Loyalty is faithfulness to a person, idea, or organization. A loyal person will support and defend that which he is loyal to. Loyalty is devotion regardless of the response received. Bill Gothard said, “Loyalty is using adversity to confirm my commitment to those whom God has called me to serve.”


The opposite of loyalty is unfaithfulness. An unfaithful person does not keep promises or vows that are made. Unfaithfulness lacks allegiance and violates trust or confidence. Judas Iscariot is an example of an unfaithful person. Unfaithfulness is exhibiting neglect or treachery where support is due. God said to Aaron and Miriam in Numbers 12:7b-8: “Of all my house, [Moses] is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the LORD as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?” Aaron and Miriam should have been supportive of Moses, but instead they were unfaithful to him.


There are many examples of loyalty in the Bible. Here are just a few:


·      Jonathan was loyal to David even though he knew David would replace his father as king instead of himself. 

·      David was loyal to King Saul even though Saul tried to kill him. 

·      Esther stayed loyal to the Jewish people risking her life for them.

·      Ruth was loyal to Naomi. Ruth told her, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:16b-17)

·      Barnabas was loyal to Mark when Paul wanted to part company with him. 

·      Joseph was loyal to Mary even though she became pregnant during their engagement period. 


One of the marks of a loyal person is they still support a person when the person fails and even when the person is wrong. Abraham stayed loyal to Lot even when he thought Lot was wrong. Abraham rescued Lot. 


A loyal person does not gossip, slander, or give a bad report about another person. There’s support for the person in times of adversity. Loyalty is built on respect. A person can confront another person about an issue and still stay loyal to that person. 


In high school, a decision was made by Del to stay loyal to his father even when those around him were discussing the weaknesses of their fathers. Del refused to talk about his father’s failures, faults, and weaknesses with his friends. He stayed loyal to his father. 


There are consequences for unloyalty. A person you are not loyal to can be hurt. It can cause the person pain. It can cause disunity to spread. Judging and fault finding are usually encouraged when there’s disloyalty. It’s like gangrene that spreads. There’s loss of trust which can result in loss of privileges. Guilt and loss of self-esteem are results of disloyalty. Judas is an example of this. Disloyalty also results in instability. 


We try to justify disloyalty. One way to do this is by making it a prayer request. We hear things like, “I just have to tell someone . . .” or “It would be helpful for you to know . . .” We hear excuses like, “They were disloyal to me so I have the right to be disloyal to them.” Revenge always has bad consequences. 


We build loyalty by:


·      Recognizing our responsibility to defend and support certain people: Jesus, self (loyal to our standards, goals, objectives, the kind of person we desire to be), spouse, children, our circle of friends, employer, employees, Christians, our church.

·      Refusing to do things that mark disloyalty: giving a bad report about someone, focusing on someone’s failures, weaknesses, mistakes, or flaws. We need to forgive and forbear. 

·      Rejecting a proud spirit that results in: criticism, bitterness, and hurt feelings.

·      Dealing with competitiveness. We don’t demand our own way. We don’t make others feel like we are better than them. 

·      Guarding our tongue. We need to be slow to speak but quick to hear. If something needs to be addressed, we need to speak to the right person about it. If a confrontation is necessary, confront the person in love. Accept responsibility to do this.

·      Accepting our position on the team: family, community, sports. We give up the right to personal power. We do what we do for the sake of the team, not ourselves. If the team needs changing, we trust God to change the team. Be loyal to your team.

·      Making personal sacrifices. There is a cost in defending someone who is under attack. That cost can be emotional or relational. It may cost us our pride to do it someone else’s way. We make a sacrifice by refusing not to gossip, attack, or belittle another person.


If we want to be a person whose life counts on the long haul, we must build loyalty into our lives. Jesus was loyal, and we can be, too. By his grace build loyalty as a character quality. 



Verse Completion: . . . why try to understand everything along the way? Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)


12/28/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/PpYzuSbkkwg



Complete the Verse & Name the BookFor now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall . . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Michael used Acts 1:1-8 and Zechariah 4:6 as the text for his sermon “Refinement, Focus, and Forging.”


God has been refining us. When gold is refined, it is taken in its impure state and heated to a temperature where the impurities rise to the top and the dross can be removed. When the molten gold cools down, one is left with “pure” gold. Refinement for us is spiritual growth. It’s listening to God when he says, “Be holy because I am holy.” The refinement process brings us to purity. It refines the sin and ungodly character qualities out of our lives. During this time of COVID, we must take responsibility to make sure the refinement process continues in our lives. The result is we become more like Jesus. 


We have become more focused this past year. We have had to ask ourselves, “What makes us the church? Is it the coffee and cookies?” We’ve determined it’s Jesus that makes the Church. Jesus is in the center of who we are and what we do. Jesus is the head of our church. We sometimes forget that. We ask God to bless what we are doing, and we forget to ask him if we should even be doing it. We need to be asking, “Jesus, what is it you want me to do?”


As a church we are not community minded first; we are Christ minded first. There was a time when Pastor Michael worked for the YMCA. He was in charge of their soccer program. The culture of the YMCA said, “We are here for the community. We exist for this community.” Everything was designed to get different segments of the community to come through the doors of the YMCA. It was the same idea when he worked for the city. The bottom line was: The way success is measured is by how many people participated—numbers.  If the numbers were higher this year than the previous year, the program was a success. Of course, the more people that participated in the programs translated to more money for the organization. That’s what being community minded means. 


Being Christ minded is something very different. It says, “We exist as a church to bring salvation and sanctification to all people.” Sometimes in doing that we are actually working against the community. 


Community minded people say, “We are going to fit in and look like the community.” Christ minded people say, “We’re not trying to fit in or look like the community, we’re trying to look like God. Where the community does not look like God, we are different from the community.” We’re supposed to look different. We are called out of the community into Christ’s community. Paul said, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). 


If the community has a stronghold in something that is false, we as a church break it down. We don’t go along with it just because we are part of the community. We are first and foremost Christ followers. When the community doesn’t follow Jesus, we don’t follow the community. We invite the community to follow Christ. In all of our activities in the church, we ask, “How does this promote Jesus? How does this give people an opportunity to come to know Jesus?” It’s not about numbers like the community minded people are concerned with. It’s about Jesus and giving people exposure to Jesus. We are not the YMCA; we are Christ centered, Holy Spirit filled people of God. What we do promotes Jesus. We will be the pillar and foundation of truth. Paul said, “This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). We have to be different from the community. We are evangelistic, and we preach the gospel.


We’ve been refined, we’ve been focused, and we’ve been forged. Forging is the process of melting different metals together. When metals aren’t forged together properly, they will crack, chip, or delaminate—come apart from each other. During this past year, we have been forged. God has taken people with different preferences, different backgrounds, different ideas, different opinions, different experiences, different ways of looking at things and forged us together to be a tool he can use to promote his Son, Jesus. There’s unity that wasn’t there before. We’re working together now to build God’s Kingdom. 


God has plans for us in 2021. God has refined us, focused us, and forged us with a purpose. In the past we have focused on Christ and rightly so. We will continue to focus on Christ, but we also want to understand the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We have to understand who the Holy Spirit is—the Spirit of Christ in us. He’s the one who regenerates us, gives us new life, gives us spiritual gifts, and gives us power. With the Spirit of Christ in us, it’s as if Jesus himself is with us. 


In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:1-8).


Jesus told the apostles not to do anything until they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. He did not want them going out in their own power, their own strength, or their own wisdom. Only with the power of the Holy Spirit in us can we be used by God and make an impact for Christ. We cannot witness effectively for Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit because it’s the Spirit of Christ that points people to the Person of Christ. We need the Holy Spirit.


Then he said to me, “This is what the LORD says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies” (Zechariah 4:6).


What’s happening here is Zechariah is a prophet and Israel is just returning to Jerusalem after being exiled into Babylon. They are rebuilding the Temple, and they are realizing what a difficult job it is. They are trying their best but they are struggling. Here God is reminding them that their labor shouldn’t be done in their power or their own might but by the power of the Holy Spirit. 


We don’t build our church by our power, our might, our works, our ideas, our wisdom, our knowledge, our goodness, our greatness, our talents, our abilities; it’s not about us at all. It’s everything about Jesus and his Spirit in us. It’s the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be witnesses to those around us. Without the Holy Spirit, we are terrible witnesses. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes us effective witnesses as to who Jesus is. We tell others who Jesus is with our words, but it’s the Holy Spirit that puts power into those words. 


2 Chronicles 7:14 says: Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 


This verse is about knowing God. Notice how humbling ourselves comes before prayer. There are things we have to do before God will heal our land: humble ourselves, pray, seek God, turn from our wicked ways. We have to repent and acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We will not have effective prayers if we are proud. God is opposed to the proud. Humility says, “I am not impressive with anyone.” It says, “God, I am lost. I am depraved. Without you, there’s nothing good that lives in me. Left on my own, I would end up in hell. God, I need you. Would you be so gracious as to fill me with your Spirit and let me be part of what you are doing? God, I want your Kingdom to come.”


God has refined us, focused us, and forged us together so we can fall prostrate before him and worship him. We need to come to the point where we say, “God, it’s only by your Spirit that this church exists. It’s only by your Spirit that this church will be a witness. It’s only by your Spirit in us that we can do anything of value. All that I am and all that I have is yours. I humbly give you everything.”


God wants us to be effective ministers of his gospel by submitting and humbling ourselves to his Spirit. It’s all about Jesus and his Spirit. Let’s throw off all the falsehood about how great we are, how good we are, how important we are, how impressive we are. Let’s look to the Holy Spirit for power in our lives that will make us effective witnesses for him.



Verse Completion. . . know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NASB)


12/26/20


Good morning. Hope your Christmas Day went well.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/e9GtPX6c_kg



Complete the Verse and Name the BookDon’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” . . . (completion at the end)



We will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights concerning evangelizing the Jews.


For at least two decades after the resurrection, Christianity was not a new religion but a “sect” within Judaism. The Christians were not finally distinct from Jewry until after the Bar-Cochba Revolt in AD 135. Jewish Christians in the early days had no thought of separating themselves from the rest of Israel. They hoped that Israel would come to share their convictions about Jesus, and thus hasten his triumphant return to set up his kingdom. 


One of the main planks in the Christian platform among the Jews was that the ancient Scriptures had at last been fulfilled, the promises had come true, and that this had been achieved in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Accordingly, the approach to the Jew was always made through the Old Testament. Matthew has a dozen examples of a fulfillment formula: “This was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying . . .”


Jesus fulfilling the Scriptures is found throughout the New Testament. “This is what was spoken by the prophet” is how Peter begins to set out the significance of Jesus. And this remained the fundamental method of approach to the Jew until the split with the synagogue had become irreversible in the second century.


When Paul was defending himself before King Agrippa, he said, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22b-23). It seems as though the suffering of the Messiah, his resurrection, and his fulfillment of Isaiah 49 both for Jews and Gentiles, were major topics for discussion between Christians and Jews.


Luke records the story of Cleopas and another friend of Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus walked along with them after his resurrection from the dead and talked with them. Luke 24:32 says: They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Many a Jewish heart burned within him as he heard the apostolic preaching of Jesus, matched it up with the Old Testament, and found it fitted. We can well imagine the searching of the Scriptures which must have ensued in synagogue after synagogue as Paul and the other missionaries made a start there. For of all the methods of approach of the Christians to the Jews, that of synagogue preaching was most important. Here not only the Jews themselves, but the very fertile soil of the God-fearers was to be found. No wonder, then, that Christians made a bee line for the synagogues and preached Jesus as Messiah, according to the Scriptures. The Bible provided the main road into Judaism for the gospel. Indeed, without exaggeration one could say it was the only road.


With all the conflicting views of the coming Deliverer in circulation, it would be inevitable that when the Christians began to proclaim Jesus as Messiah to the Jews they would encounter not only immense and immediate interest but also intensive interrogation. What sort of a Messiah was he? The answers the Christians gave satisfied some Jews and not others; but at all events they showed that their Jesus did not fit precisely into any of the contemporary strait-jackets of Messianic prediction. He shared features in common with most of these speculations, but was bigger than any and all of them. 


Was he Son of David? Yes, indeed he was Son of David, Seed of David, Stock of David, all of that. Hence, of course, the importance of the genealogies in evangelism. But he was more than David’s descendant. He was David’s Lord, and that placed important limitations on the sense in which he was his “son”. Psalm 16:2 says: I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”David was speaking of the Messiah, and it’s important to notice that David called him not “son” but “Lord”. It is as Lord that he has ascended into heaven, and now sits in the place of power. 


Was Jesus a political leader? This must have been one of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer. For on the face of it he had been such, and was a failure. How could he be the Messiah if he ended up on a Roman cross as a discredited “king of the Jews”? The answer seems to have been that he was indeed a political leader, but once again not quite what was expected. 


True he died on the cross; but had the Jew never heard of the birth pangs of the Messianic Age, the place of suffering in victory, the need even for the Servant of Yahweh to suffer before his vindication? To be sure, there is a sense in which Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world; yet the day would come when he will restore the kingdom to Israel, when his apostles will rule over the new Israel, when the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of Yahweh and of his Messiah. 


This hope was not deferred to the indefinite future or spiritualized away in the early preaching to the Jews; even in the second century it was still an earthly kingdom and an earthly millennium that was held out to the faithful. Jewish repentance, Jewish turning to Jesus as Messiah, would hasten the advent of the longed-for “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” when God would “send the Messiah appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets of old”. Then Jesus would be a political leader all right. 


In the meantime, to demonstrate that he is indeed not a deceiver but is in the place of highest honor and power with God, waiting for the right moment in which to exercise his ascendancy over his enemies, there is the presence of this mighty Spirit in the Church, continuing in and through them the acts of power done by Jesus in his lifetime. No, the cross does not mean that Jesus was weak; the very reverse. It was the climax of the mighty acts of God in him; it was triumphantly vindicated as such by the resurrection—of which we are witnesses. This is likely to have been the way in which the early preachers handled the charge of political weakness arising from the execution of Jesus. 



Verse Completion. . . Wait for the LORD to handle the matter. Proverbs 20:22 (NLT)


12/25/20


Good morning, and Merry Christmas!


Song of the Day: https://youtu.be/CHj_q7ttDCE



Complete the Verses & Name the Book

·      In the beginning was the Word, and . . .


·      The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who . . . (completions at the end)


Pastor Mike Lombard is my sister’s pastor at the Kommetjie Christian Church in South Africa. He is preached a sermon titled “Jesus, the God Man” in his series on the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Here is a recap of his sermon from December 13:


The words “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” is truly one of the most remarkable, revolutionary, awesome realities that this world has ever known! The very concept that God would become a human being and intervene in human history is truly remarkable!


The incarnation of Christ is an integral part of the Christmas story. It’s the incarnation that initiates the whole Christ story. Is incarnation difficult to understand? 1 Timothy 3:16 says: Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.


The first on Paul’s list of things that are difficult to understand is God was manifested in the flesh. The incarnation involves how God is embodied in a human being and what the implications are for us. The child born to Mary, Jesus, was actually God who was born as a human being. The Word of God, the Logos (the second person of the Trinity—the Son of God), assumes a complete human nature. What we are not saying is an additional person is being added to the Godhead. What happened is God the Father extended his personhood to Jesus. 


The early church used to say: “Without ceasing who he was, he became what he was not.” That is to say that without ceasing to be who he was (God), Jesus became what he was not (man). That means that Jesus is truly God and at the same time truly human. Jesus is the God-Man. He is the Son of God and the Son of man. From the very moment when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he became the God-Man, and he will be the God-Man throughout eternity. It’s astonishing! The implications for us humans are enormous. 


Philosophically, or logically, it is not possible for a creator to become a creature. In some religions (like Islam), the thought of God becoming a person is not only wrong; it’s deeply offensive—scandalous. Colossians 1:15 says:


[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.


Paul is not saying that Jesus is like God; he is saying that Jesus is God. When Paul said the firstborn over all creation, he is referring to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Who can be resurrected? Only a human being. 


In the next verse Paul said,


For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him (verse 16).


Jesus is the Creator of all things. 


[Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together (verse 17). 


It’s by the power of Jesus that things continue to exist. 


Jesus is fully God 100% of the time. Jesus is fully human 100% of the time. Jesus is clearly God because he is the Creator of all things. Jesus is clearly man because he was born into this world. Hebrews 1:1-3 says:


In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.


Jesus is God. Jesus is man. 


When Jesus died on the cross, as a man he was subject to pain, suffering, and death. 


When we think about Jesus being God-Man, there are questions that arise. For example, concerning the time when Jesus would return to earth the second time, Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). If Jesus is God, how can he not know the day and hour he will return? Jesus chooses to limit his divine nature so as not to override the limitations of his human nature. To maintain the integrity of his humanity, he chooses not to use or draw on all his divine nature so that he doesn’t override the limitations of his human nature. Jesus voluntarily does not exercise his divine attributes. Philippians 2:5-7 says:


Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.


When Jesus came to earth, he did not cease being God. Where it says Jesus made himself nothing, it means he chose not to use his divine powers and abilities. 


When we think of Jesus, we picture him as God. It’s not as easy for us to picture him as man. Hebrews 2:14-15 says:


Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 


For Jesus to become our representative and substitute, he had to become like us. He had to authentically become human. 


Verse 17 says: For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 


If Jesus is not fully human, then his death on the cross cannot deal appropriately with sin. Jesus could not go to the cross drawing on his divine powers and yet stay on the cross. He had to endure the cross as a man. 


In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had to endure the confrontation with the devil as a man. He couldn’t draw on his divine powers to overcome the devil. Adam didn’t have divine powers to draw on when he was faced with the devil in the Garden of Eden. For the power of sin and death to be overcome, Jesus had to deal with it as a full human being. 


Jesus shares with humanity the full human condition with one exception—Jesus is without sin. Hebrews 4:15 says: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Jesus is the only one qualified to redeem people to God, and he does it as a full human being. 


Jesus knew what it was to be hungry and thirsty. He knew what it was like to be homeless. He knew what it was like to lose a parent—Joseph died before Jesus started his public ministry. He knew what it was like to lose a close friend. He knew what it was like to be betrayed.  He knew what it was like to be doubted and rejected by his brothers and sisters. Any idea that says Jesus was not fully human is preposterous. 


Jesus knew the blessing of a mother’s love. He knew the joy of a wedding. He knew the joy of eating and drinking. He knew the joy of friendship. He experienced the blessing of hospitality. Jesus knows what it is like to be human. He was born a human, died a human, rose from the grave as a human, and ascended to heaven as a human. He is human right now. He will forever be human. He will forever be God-Man. 


Jesus will return to earth in his humanity. He is the firstborn of the new creation. He’s the one who will lead us into the same kind of immortal life that he is experiencing right now so we can live forever in his everlasting kingdom. It’s all possible because Jesus is the God-Man. Jesus is the Word made flesh. 


To be a disciple of Christ, we have to acknowledge the humanity of Christ. 1 John 4:2 says: This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. 


The incarnation is a great, revolutionary, Christian doctrine that lies at the very heart of what the Christmas message is all about. The Christ child is in fact God incarnate, and he is authentically human. Great is the mystery of godliness!



Completions to Verses:


·      . . . the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


·      . . . came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14 (NIV)


12/24/20


Good morning, and Happy Christmas Eve!


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/oyEyMjdD2uk



Complete the Verse & Name the BookRejoice in the Lord always; . . .  (completion at the end)



Not everything that’s posted on Facebook is true. That’s an understatement if there ever was one. However, once in awhile something is posted that is true. Yesterday, I posted one of those truths: Whoever said “Out of sight, out of mind” never had a spider disappear in the bedroom.


The following article was seen on Facebook as well. I checked to see if it was truth or legend, and as far as I can tell, it appears to be trustworthy. I wanted to share the article with you today:


Have you ever wondered what leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? 


From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. 


It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.


• The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ. 

• Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments. 

• Three French hens stood for the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

• The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. 

• The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). 

• The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation: 1. heavens & earth, 2. sky & seas, 3. land and plants, 4. sun, moon, and stars, 5. fish & birds, 6. land animals and man.

• Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy. 

• The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes: 1. The poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, 2. Those who mourn; for they shall be comforted, 3. The meek; for they shall inherit the earth, 4. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; for they shall be filled, 5. The merciful; for they shall obtain mercy, 6. The pure in heart; for they shall see God, 7. The peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God, 8. They which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. 

• The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments: 1. Thou shall have no other gods before me, 2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, 3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, 4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, 5. Honor thy father and mother, 6. Thou shall not kill, 7. Thou shalt not commit adultery, 8. Thou shalt not steal, 9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, 10. Thou shalt not covet.

• The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James. 

• The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed: 1. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, 2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, 3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, 4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, 5. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. 6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, 7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 8. I believe in the Holy Spirit, 9. The holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints, 10. The forgiveness of sins, 11. The resurrection of the body, 12. And the life everlasting.



Verse Completion. . . again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4 (NASB)


12/23/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/mY8XFgBwq_w



Complete the Verse & Name the BookAfter Herod had a thorough search made for [Peter] and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that . . . (completion at the end)



We will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights. 


What, then, did Luke mean by “witness”? The basic passage is Luke 24:48 where Jesus commissions the disciples to be his witnesses “of these things”. What things? The context is rich and quite explicit. It is the identification of Jesus as Messiah, the fulfillment of all the Scriptures in him, his suffering and death, his resurrection, and the proclamation of repentance and faith in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. That is what they are to bear witness to. The power to equip them for this task of witness-bearing is promised them in the next verse; and this commissioning and empowering is filled out in the opening verses of Acts, where “You shall be my witnesses” is matched by “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The apostolic Church were quite clear that God’s gift of his Spirit was intended not to make them comfortable but to make them witnesses.


What, then, is the witness to the cross, according to Luke’s sermons in Acts? The following seven points are, I think, sufficient indication that though Luke had no distinctive theologia crucis his teaching was not substantially different from that of the rest of the New Testament on this important subject.


1.   The seriousness of sin is frequently stressed in Acts, in the demand for repentance, the punishment of sinners (such as Ananias and Sapphira), and the reminders of the last judgment.


2.   People are held responsible for their sinful actions, even when it is specifically noted that God overrules human wickedness for his own purposes.


3.   Salvation comes from God alone: this is repeatedly emphasized, and is also underlined by the fact that Jesus’ death is said to be part of the age-long plan of God (no accidental disaster resulting from human wickedness) and that baptism is something done for a person not by him, thus embodying the objective “giveness” of salvation.


4.   When the cross and resurrection are mentioned, they are frequently put into immediate juxtaposition to the offer of divine forgiveness, thus indicating that they were integrally connected in the thought of St Luke.


5.   Jesus is several times identified with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 42 and 53 , and always in the context of suffering and vindication. This fact alone makes it very difficult to suppose that Luke had no clear doctrine of the atonement, for no passage in the Old Testament was more commonly used by the Christians than this to explain their Lord’s expiatory death.


6.   On one occasion the death of Christ is spoken of as a ransom: the Church has been ransomed with the Lord’s own blood.


7.   Jesus, it is repeatedly mentioned, died on a tree. This is a plain allusion to Deuteronomy 21:21-23, which explains that anyone who is hung up on a tree in death rests under the curse of God. This could hardly have escaped Luke’s attention: it indicates a strongly vicarious understanding of the cross of Christ.


John starts out his gospel with these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning(verses 1-2).


A few verses later he said: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (verse 14).


John is convinced that the Absolute became our Contemporary; God became man for thirty years or so in order to bring us to a new dimension of life through knowing him. But how can you demonstrate so staggering a claim? How can you bring it home to others? The answer is, by witness. You can listen to the witness to himself which Jesus, the Teacher, brings; you can allow its inherent truth to convince you, and bring you to faith in him, and so to this new quality of life he came to make available for us. There is, after all, nothing more ultimate than the divine Teacher to which you can appeal in order to validate his message. What is required is faith in the witness he brings. Only God can bear adequate witness to God. And, when God did so, some believed. The link between “witness” and “faith” is strongly emphasized in this Gospel.


The first generation of believers could bear their witness; that is all. They had two things to say. First, that they had believed, and had found the claims of the divine Teacher to be true in their own lives and experience. Second, they could give evidence on which they had committed themselves. That is all a historical contemporary can possibly do for later generations or for those who were not there. And that is what John set out to do in his preaching and in his writings. He says time and again that he has believed; and he gives the evidence which led him to that life-changing encounter with Jesus. His Gospel is intended to lead others to faith.


The message of John is very much the same as we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament. The deity of Jesus is fundamental; he is the Truth, the Light of the world, the Word of God who is himself God. He is also attested in the witness as the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin, and the one who is filled with God’s Spirit and imparts the same to believers. This testimony to Jesus, his incarnation, his real death on the cross, his physical resurrection from the tomb is all eye-witness stuff.


John quotes the words of Jesus spoken to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). They are blessed, because when they believe they do see! Seeing is not believing, in this Gospel; the reverse is true—believing is seeing. And when you believe the witness and see for yourself, you are no longer a “disciple at second hand”; you are a disciple at first hand, every bit as much in touch with the divine Teacher as the historical contemporary on whose testimony you believed. “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart” (1 John 5:10a).



Verse Completion. . . [the guards] be executed. Acts 12:19 (NIV)


12/22/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/KZMhH_9VJD0



Complete the Verse & Name the BookYou can make many plans, but . . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Del McKenzie continued his series on “Godly Character Qualities” with the topic of generosity. So far he has taught on gentleness, humility, integrity, endurance, responsibility, thankfulness, forgiveness, and acceptance.


There are numerous stories of misers who lived like paupers even though they were multi-millionaires. That is the opposite of how Jesus lived his life. He didn’t hoard what he had, he freely gave. Generosity was one of our Lord’s great character qualities, and it needs to be one of ours if we are going to be true followers of Jesus.


Character is what we are, not what we think we are, not what other people think we are, not what we appear to be or what we pretend to be. Character is the real us. It’s a combination of many character qualities: gentleness or roughness, humility or pride, integrity or hypocrisy, endurance or giving up, responsibility or evasion, thankfulness or entitlement/complaining, forgiveness or condemnation, acceptance or rejection. We can have little or much of each of these qualities.


Let’s begin our study of generosity with the example of Jesus. The wordgenerosity comes from the idea of someone born of noble birth. The word came to mean a willingness to give or share because the person is noble-minded—not crude, mean, or rough. A person who is generous is unselfish. Such a person is free to give and he/she gives often and gives much. 


Followers of Christ understand that all they have really belongs to Christ. We are simply managers of what we have, not owners. Everything we have is for Christ’s purposes and plans. 


The opposite of generosity is using what we have for our own interests and purposes. It involves self-indulgence, stinginess, greediness, miserliness. It involves sharing only under pressure. 


As we look at the life of Jesus, we see many examples of generosity: the feeding of the 5,000 with 12 baskets of leftovers, the feeding of the 4,000 with seven baskets of leftovers, healing all who came to him, generous with his forgiveness, generous in his friendships (Matthew the tax collector, Zacchaeus the tax collector, Lazarus), generous in how he helped others, generous with his time, and generous with himself—he gave himself and his grace. His gifts of grace include: predestination, election, his choosing us, his calling us, his drawing us, spiritual hunger, conviction, illumination, faith, repentance, conversion, justification, regeneration, sanctification, transformation, being conformed to his image, maturity, education (he teaches us), heaven, and best of all the gift of Jesus himself. 


Jesus taught us to be generous. Luke 6:38 has the following words of Jesus: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” If you are generous to other people, they will be generous to you. What you sow is what you harvest. If you sow nothing, you will reap nothing. Galatians 6:7 says: Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Matthew 10:8b has the following words of Jesus: “Give as freely as you have received!” There’s nothing that we have that hasn’t been received. Jesus said in Matthew 5:40-42: “If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”


We are to be generous with our prayers. Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43-44)


When we are thankful, we are generous people. When we are complainers, we are not generous people. We are to have a generous attitude.


There are many applications on generosity in Scripture. 


·      Psalm 112:5 says: Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly. God sees our generosity, and he responds to it.

·      Proverbs 11:24-25 says: Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

·      Proverbs 22:9 says: Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor.


We aren’t generous to be seen by others. We aren’t generous so we can be given applause. We are generous because we love God and we love his people. 


How can we build generosity into our lives? 


1.   By asking ourselves the question: Am I selfish? We need to face who we are honestly. Take the matter to God and ask for his change and his healing in our lives. Then we need to make a decisive commitment to God: “By your grace and power, I will develop the character quality of generosity.”


2.   By taking up our cross and following Jesus. Jesus gave everything he had on the cross including his life. When we look at the cross, we can’t make comfort, luxury, and pleasure the focus of our life. We have to come to grips with what Jesus did on the cross. As Jesus gave everything, we can give everything: money, time, skills, education, gifting. All these things can be shared with others.


3.   By setting Jesus always before us. Catch his heart for lost souls. Catch his heart for missions. Catch his heart for the poor. Look to Jesus—the author and perfector of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2a). Jesus came to redeem the world. 


4.   By looking for opportunities to be generous. 


May people know us by our generosity. 



Verse Completion. . . the LORD’S purpose will prevail. Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)


12/21/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/-y0_wNPSOaw



Complete the Verse & Name the BookSensible people control their temper; they earn respect by . . . (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Michael blessed us with the sermon, “That Christmas Feeling,” based on Luke 2:1-7.


When the words “Merry Christmas” were said to the clerk at a store, the response was, “It really doesn’t feel like Christmas.”


What does Christmas feel like? We all have our Christmas stories that tug at our hearts, and we call that the feeling of Christmas. But every Christmas is different. Christmas as an elementary school student is different from Christmas as a junior high student, high school student, college student, self-supporting adult, married adult, parent with a child, and so on. So what is that Christmas feeling? If it’s what I felt as an elementary school kid, I’ll never be able to replicate that feeling because I’m not an elementary school kid any longer. In fact, I can’t replicate last year’s Christmas feeling because I have changed, my family has changed, and the world has changed. 


What is this Christmas feeling we talk about? Is it the food? Is it the fun? Is it the family? Is it the lights? Is it the Christmas tree? Is it the presents? I will never have the same Christmas feeling I had last year, two years ago, or 10+ years ago. Can COVID take the Christmas feeling away? If it can, that Christmas feeling is in the wrong place.


If you asked Joseph and Mary what Christmas is, I wonder what they would say.


At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.


 What would Joseph and Mary’s feelings be of what we consider Christmas? Their first Christmas involved a journey they were unwilling to take—they didn’t want to take the journey. They certainly didn’t look forward to it as one would a Christmas vacation. Mary was nine months pregnant. She would have to go on a long, cold, and uncomfortable journey. When they arrived, Grandma would not be meeting them at the door and welcoming them inside. In addition, they were going to a place where they were not welcomed. There was no place for them to stay. People refused to give them room in their house because they had no room for them in their hearts. 


This adventure involved the unknown. Mary had never given birth before. Joseph had never helped in the birthing process before. This was all new to them, and they were unprepared. Baby Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth. I wonder if those strips didn’t come from Joseph’s robe. 


Mary and Joseph’s Christmas (upon which our Christmas is based) involved a journey they were unwilling to take to a place they were unwelcomed at to do things that were unknown to them for which they were unprepared. There were no colorful lights. Food wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. There was no laughter. There was no Christmas music. There were no gifts. There was no family. They weren’t welcomed by anybody. Where’s the Christmas feeling here?


When we say, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas,” what are we saying it takes to make it feel like Christmas? We may be confusing what Christmas is with the festivities of Christmas. We may have made Christmas into something it isn’t. 


We know Jesus is the reason for Christmas but we often live like we don’t believe it. Consequently, we hear, “It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas this year. It’s a lot different. COVID has ruined our Christmas.” 


COVID has not ruined or taken away Christmas, and it never will. You can have lights, family, celebration, food, friends, fun, gifts, and games at any time of the year, but you can’t have Christmas at any time of the year. The only thing that makes Christmas Christmas is what Joseph and Mary had—Jesus. Christmas is about Christ. Christmas means the celebration of Christ. It’s not “Foodmas” or “Friendmas” or “Giftmas,” it’s Christmas! Christmas is all about Jesus. 


You might feel unwilling to have Christmas this year because family can’t be with you. You might feel you are unwelcomed in many places. There may be many unknowns this year. You may feel unprepared for what lies ahead. Welcome to Joseph and Mary’s world. May all these feelings draw us to that which really counts—Jesus. Jesus is the center of Christmas. We will have Christmas this year because the feeling of Christmas is Jesus: his love, his grace, his forgiveness, his presence, contentment in Jesus. Jesus is who we celebrate.


Don’t confuse past Christmas feelings with the reality that Christmas is simply Christ. It’s different this year, but it’s different every year. Have a Merry Christmas not because of what you don’t have but because of who you do have. 



Verse Completion. . . overlooking wrongs. Proverbs 19:11 (NLT)


12/19/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/_j37WnwmzSI



Complete the Verse & Name the BookBut now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but. . . (completion at the end)



We will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights. 


Christianity burst on the world with all the suddenness of good news; good news proclaimed with great enthusiasm and courage by its advocates, and backed up by their own witness and experience. It was the fruit of their conviction that God had transformed the apparent defeat of Good Friday into the supreme victory of Easter Day. The gospel is good news; it is proclamation; it is witness.


When Jesus had died in agony, shame, and apparent failure on the cross, his disciples must have thought they had been mistaken, and that he was a fraud. The resurrection came to them as God’s vindication of the claims Jesus had made. They saw that he was the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead. And they proceeded to announce these joyful tidings with tireless zeal and boundless enthusiasm. The angels announced to the shepherds: “I bring you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”


There was no less joy on earth after the resurrection had set God’s seal on the authenticity of Jesus. His disciples audaciously and exultantly spread this good news of a Savior. They declared Jesus was the Messiah and through him the ancient promises had been fulfilled. They proclaimed the good news of peace through Jesus, the Lordship of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, or simply Jesus himself. Nothing more was needed. The early preachers of the good news had one subject and one only, Jesus. The good things the Apostles announced in the Gospel were simply Jesus. 


Although it is absolutely universal in its offer, Mark knows that the good news is only effective among those who repent, believe, and are prepared to engage in costly, self-sacrificial discipleship. Only the person who is prepared to lose his life for the sake of Christ and the gospel can find it; for it was only by losing his life for the sake of others that Christ could offer new life to mankind, the new life proclaimed in the gospel. In Mark’s gospel, the cross and resurrection are central. Repentance and faith are essential human conditions. Response to the gospel will involve a life of dedicated toughness. It will be costly. Men and women must make sacrifices for it. Its furtherance is a task in which all Christians must be involved; an athletic contest, so to speak, in which all Christians are required to take an active part.


The genuinely distinctive elements in Paul’s gospel-preaching seem to have been as follows: First, he used the forensic language of justification, especially in contexts where Jewish good works were thought of as meriting divine favor; he did so in order to safeguard God’s initiative in providing salvation. Second, he stressed the final and absolute nature of the gospel; it is the gospel of truth, of hope, of power, of immortality, of the glory of God immanent within our world. It is, in short, the mystery of God, the truth once hid and now revealed to men and women, nothing less than the wisdom of God. Thirdly, Paul stressed the ethical implications of the gospel. If a person is subject to the gospel of God, it means that he has the divine grace at work within him. It is therefore incumbent upon him to live his daily civilian life in a way that is worthy of the gospel he professes.


The sophists, or traveling lecturers, often thought of themselves as messengers of the gods; they tried to make the content of their proclamation as impressive as could be, and its form as cultured as possible. Paul disclaims any such aim: “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” In both form and content his proclamation stood in striking contrast to that of the sophists. But of course people could not be experiencing the power of God in their lives if they did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, through which God’s power was let loose in human lives. That is why Paul reasserts in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that without faith in the resurrection, the proclamation he has been making is an empty shell, void of power and dynamic; nothing better than the moralizing tales the sophists tell.


All Christians were convinced that Jesus Christ was God’s last word to mankind, the one who brought as much of God to us as we could appreciate in the only terms we could take it in, the terms of a human life; the one who in dying and rising again was manifestly vindicated in his claims and achievement. This they all believed in common: their modes of expressing it depended to a large extent on their own intellectual and spiritual background and on that of their hearers.


It does not take very much imagination to listen to Peter telling and applying the story of the woman with the hemorrhage: “Look at her state,” he would say. “This flow of blood was only a little thing, but a serious one. It cut her off from her family, her synagogue, and thus from her God, through the ceremonial uncleanness it brought. It gradually weakened her whole constitution as it went on year after year. And, worst of all, it was, humanly speaking, incurable. Is that not the situation you are in? Your sins may not seem large in your eyes, yet they separate you from your family, your fellows, your God. They increasingly grip your life, as you succumb to them time after time; and they are, humanly speaking, incurable. Is that not your plight? Then listen to what I have to tell you. This woman had heard about Jesus; she came up behind Jesus in the crowd, she touched Jesus in faith (though it was a very imperfect faith, full of superstition: it is the object on which faith reposes, not the quality which faith possesses that is important); and at once she was healed. Jesus required her to take her stand publicly as one cured by him; she came in great fear and trembling, and told the whole truth. Then she went away—not only with her feelings to rely on, but with a solid word of Jesus, assuring her of her new relationship with him, and of the peace and healing into which she had entered through faith. Well,” Peter would say, “if Jesus could do it for her, he can do it for you. You have heard; you have come up to him hidden in the crowd, perhaps; will you not touch him for yourself? However defective your faith may be, if it is faith in Jesus, it will not be disappointed. You will immediately be put in the right with God, and once you have publicly confessed him, you can enter into the peace and power of the forgiven life: you can be sure of it, not because of your feelings, but because of the Lord’s promise.” Surely that is the way the story would have been used in the early Church.



Verse Completion. . . the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NASB)


12/18/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/3fbgWa5pH3g



Complete the Verse & Name the BookBut the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then . . . (completion at the end)



We will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights. Yesterday, we explored the conditions which helped Christianity spread. Today, we will look at some of the obstacles to the spread of the gospel in the first and second centuries. 


The preaching of the gospel was an exceedingly difficult operation in the conditions and circumstances of the first century. Wherever they went, Christians were opposed as anti-social, atheistic and depraved. Their message proclaimed a crucified criminal, and nothing could have been less calculated than that to win them converts. To the Greeks such a story showed how weak and ineffective it was; while the Jews could not bring themselves to stomach it at all. To Jew and Gentile alike Christians were offensive, on account both of the doctrines and of the behavior credited to them. All this they had to live down if they were going to win anybody at all for Jesus Christ. 


First and foremost among the difficulties the early missionaries encountered was the fact that they were nobodies. A handful of men without formal rabbinic training were attempting to correct the theology and belief, let along the religious practices, of properly qualified, professional religious leaders.


After the execution of Jesus, it was not merely difficult, it was preposterous to think of him as Messiah. By definition the Messiah was a deliverer, a conqueror. Deliverance must include political independence. And this Jesus manifestly failed to bring. His death upon the cross marked him out as a blatant failure so far as any claim to Messiahship was concerned. 


Is it any wonder that the Jews thought Christians were preaching a second God when the followers of Christ proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord”? “Lord” was the particular name for God in the Old Testament (Adonai). This was blasphemy to their pure monotheism. As for the virgin birth, it was seen by the Jews as a revolting slur on God. Entry to the people of God was now offered on equal terms to Greeks and barbarians alike, without any insistence on the costly repentance involved in the symbolic cutting away of Gentile impurity in circumcision. This was truly appalling. Instead of the Sabbath, the first day of the week was kept for worship.


The more the Jews learned about Christianity, the more clear it became that the new religion was utterly incompatible with the religion of Israel, and must be eliminated root and branch. Riots, persecution, and the burning of Polycarp followed. 


Judaism was a religio licita. They were a nation whose right to its worship was recognized at Rome. Why should they tolerate Christians spreading heresy under their auspices?


Primarily the Roman state religion was the formal link between men and the gods. In Rome’s case this was conceived of as originating in a contract between Numa, the first priest-king of Rome, and Jupiter, king of the gods. Under the terms of this contract the god would look after Rome’s security and progress, while the state would look after the god’s needs by supplying the proper sacrifices and worship. 


It was not necessary that people should believe in the ancient gods. Belief was a private matter. But they were expected to participate in the state cult. Worship was a public matter, and the safety of the state depended upon it. 


The Jews were exclusive monotheists and refused to allow Yahweh to be added to the Romans’ list of gods. They also refused to allow Yahweh to be identified with Jupiter, king of the gods. The Jews held that Yahweh was God of the whole earth, and they would worship him alone. This seemed very odd and narrow-minded to the Romans but they were a practical people, adaptable and tolerant in religion, as in so much else. They allowed the Jews to be an anomaly and to worship God in their own way, so long as they would offer prayer for the Roman state.


Within thirty-five years of the founding of the new faith, to join the Christians meant to court martyrdom. What gave the Christians a little growing room was Rome had no hard and fast legal rules governing provincials. In addition, the power to try cases and to pronounce capital sentence lay with the proconsul alone in the provinces of the Empire. Since there were no public prosecutors, charges had to be brought and sustained by a private accuser. These factors combined to protect the majority of Christians long enough for the Church to become settled throughout the length and breadth of the Empire. 


Christians were accused of atheism because they did not do honor to the customary gods. This was regarded as disloyalty to the state. Christians were accused of incest and cannibalism. Christians met in secret; they used realistic language about feeding on Christ in the Eucharist, and they spoke of loving fellow-Christians, whom they called brothers and sisters in Christ. 


Christians were thought of as social misfits. They would not attend gladiatorial shows or games or plays. They wouldn’t read pagan literature. They wouldn’t enlist as soldiers because they would come under orders that might conflict with their standards and with their loyalty to Jesus Christ. They wouldn’t be painters or sculptors, for that would be to acquiesce in idolatry. Nor would they be schoolmasters, for then they would inevitably have to tell the immoral stories of the pagan gods. Business contracts required the taking of oaths, which Christians abjured. Administrative offices involved idolatry. Christians appeared to be united in their hatred of the human race.


Both Christ and Caesar claimed world dominion. A Christian could not consistently say “Caesar is Lord” if he professed “Jesus is Lord.” Christianity was new and almost by definition nothing new could be true. Christianity was ridiculous, for it proclaimed that the wisdom of God was exhibited in the cross of Jesus. To the Roman such a death was a demonstration of servility, of weakness, of inferiority and of guilt. To the Greek it was all of this and folly as well. It went without saying that the Christians who believed such foolish things were thought of as being hopelessly anti-intellectual. 


Christians were despised for their cultural inferiority. They appealed to the simple, unlettered lower classes for the most part. Christians gloried in the fact that their message had been revealed by God in his wisdom not to the intelligent and highly placed, but to humble believing people. 


Conversion to Christ brought about change. Justin said, “We who formerly delighted in fornication now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock and share with everyone who is in need; we who hated and destroyed one another and, on account of their different customs, would not live with men of a different race, now, since the coming of Christ, live on excellent terms with them and pray for our enemies and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all.”


Trade guilds were common and could be used against Christians. The silversmiths in Ephesus started a riot when conversions to Christianity resulted in a fall in their sales. When people’s livelihood and their beliefs are both challenged by some new movement, the reaction is usually sharp. 


At whatever level in society it was attempted, evangelism in the early church was a very daunting undertaking.



Verse Completion. . . peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:17 (NIV)


12/17/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/VDmIddF7DfQ



Complete the Verse & Name the BookPeople ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then . . . (completion at the end)



Today, we will continue to take a look at Michael Green’s book Evangelism in the Early Church. I will primarily use quotes from the book to hit some of the highlights. We will be exploring the conditions which helped Christianity spread. 


Christianity entered the world at a time of peace unparalleled in history. The whole known world was for the first time under the effective control of one power—Rome. A veritable network of roads radiated out from Rome to all parts of the Empire, and they were kept in good repair. The roads afforded swift and safe travel and were fully exploited by the early Christians. 


Greece, too, made signal contributions to the spread of Christianity. Perhaps the most important was the Greek language. It acted as an almost universal common tongue. The advantages for the Christian mission of having a common language can hardly be overestimated. It did away with the necessity for missionary language schools.


The Greek language cannot be separated from Greek thought. Through it Greek literature was opened up and served as the model for Roman writers. The poets were the theologians of the day; and the common people derived their conception of the gods and their activities from the Homeric sagas. Indirectly, therefore, this popularizing of theological mythology was a real preparation for the gospel. 


The Romans were wide open to influence from emotional, enthusiastic cults which claimed to help men and women with their daily problems, to give them immortality, and to enable them to share their lives with the god. 


It was along the pathways of the Greek language, Greek thought and Greek cults that the Christian gospel traveled in the early days. It made excellent progress. 


By far the broadest avenue for the advance of Christianity was afforded by Judaism. The Jews had spread far beyond the confines of Palestine long before the first century; and everywhere they went, they took their religion with them. About the time of Jesus, there were over a million Jews in Egypt, about an eighth of the population. 


There were two features about Judaism which remained constant: their strict monotheism, and their proselytizing zeal.


Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BC. He was determined to enter the temple and see what was in the Holy of Holies, which was surrounded with so much mystery. Despite the cries of “Sacrilege!” he went in, and found to his amazement precisely nothing! The Romans could not get over this. That there should be no image of the god in his inmost shrine seemed to them fantastic, and was one of the reasons why they tended ever afterwards to regard the Jews as atheists.


The Romans never understood the Jews. But they were extremely fair and tolerant towards them. The reason for this is that the Jews had backed a winner in Julius Caesar; they had soldiered with him and supported him loyally. 


The Jews were not popular, but they were influential. Tacitus said of them: “The Jews acknowledge one God only, of whom they have a purely spiritual conception. They think it impious to make images of gods in human shape out of perishable materials.” This lofty monotheism, this worship of the one Creator God who will be the Judge of humankind, exercised a powerful appeal in the ancient world which was, as we have seen, for all it overt polytheism, moving in the direction of the worship of one supreme being.


Whereas the philosophers could say little about the high God towards whom they were fumbling, there was no such difficulty for the Jew. The Jew was conscious of having found the one true God—or rather of being found by him. God had not left mankind to grope after him in the dark; he had revealed himself in the history of Israel and the Scriptures. These Scriptures had long been available for Greeks as well as Hebrews to read.


Regular worship took place in the synagogue or in an open-air meeting place. Prayer, psalm singing, Scripture reading, together with the exhortation based upon it—this type of service was unique in ancient religion. 


All class distinctions were done away with in Christianity. All men were brothers, and distinctions of race, sex, education and wealth meant nothing. Furthermore, while retaining all the attractions of Judaism, Christianity dispensed with those two great Jewish stumbling-blocks, as they appeared to the Graeco-Roman world, circumcision and food laws. The substitution of baptism for circumcision gave Christianity an enormous advantage over Judaism, for baptism seemed in line with the lustrations (purifications) to which pagans were accustomed.


Apart from Judaism, there was no other religion in the world of the day which would not make room for other faiths. Time and again we read of their expulsion from Rome under successive emperors because their numbers were increasing so fast. What spurred them to this missionary endeavor? Paradoxically, it was their exclusivism. 


Persecution led the Jews along the paths of Apocalyptic, according to which, in the coming Messianic kingdom, all wrongs would be righted, Israel would be vindicated, and the ungodly Gentiles crushed. This in turn led to proselytizing, for one could not with an easy conscience reflect on the fewness of the saved and the multitudes of the lost and do nothing about it. Hence the growing concern to bring Gentiles under the wing of the people of God.


The elements of ethical monotheism, circumcision, synagogue worship, Scripture reading and proselytism figured prominently in most circles that called themselves Jewish. And in all these ways Judaism prepared the way for Christianity. 


The Christian faith grew best and fastest on Jewish soil, or at least soil that had been prepared by Judaism. The spread of the Jews, their monotheism, their ethical standards, their synagogues and Scriptures, and not least their concern for conversion all were major factors in the advance of the Christian faith.



Verse Completion. . . are angry at the LORD. Proverbs 19:3 (NLT)


12/16/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/yFoFOZmSIfY



Complete the Verse & Name the BookAnd Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to . . .  (completion at the end)



If I had seen the book Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael 

Green on a bookshelf, I doubt I would have chosen it as a book to read. However, when an author who was interviewed said, “Next to the Bible, Evangelism in the Early Church is the book I have read the most times. I believe I’ve read it 22 times,” that got my attention. Today I’d like to summarize the preface and introduction primarily using quotes from the book.


Most evangelists are not very interested in theology; most theologians are not very interested in evangelism. I am deeply committed to both.


A study of evangelism is of real significance for our day. If it can help us to understand afresh the gospel these early Christians preached, the methods they employed, the spiritual characteristics they displayed, the extent to which they were prepared to think their message through in the light of contemporary thought forms, to proclaim it to the utmost of their power, to live it, and to die for it, then a study such as this might, perhaps be of some service towards recalling the Church in our own day to her primary task.


There has been a massive slide in public morality, and today we witness the absence of great causes for which people are prepared to sacrifice. Structures are out: perceptions are in, and they must all be respected. Relativism in morals and pluralism in belief are all part of this newer worldview.


The Church is the society which only lives when it dies, only grows when it gives its heart away. It is, as Archbishop William Temple succinctly put it, the only society in the world which exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.


We would be wise to go back to the beginning and see how the first Christians succeeded in making such an impact. We cannot, of course, move directly from page to action. Their world was very different from ours, despite the similarities of one language understood almost everywhere, one form of government paramount, ease of travel and communications, and broad disenchantment with the old gods and the hitherto prevailing worldview. The differences are very real, but we cannot fail to profit from reflecting on the ways in which this tiny band of men and women in a fringe province of the far-flung Roman Empire became a world faith within a few generations. They must have something important to teach us about evangelism, even though we shall need to transpose their music into another key if we are to touch the modern ear.


First and foremost is their confidence in the truth of their message. They were all Jews, those first disciples, ardent monotheists. They were the hardest people in the world to convince that God had come to this earth in the person of Jesus to share his life with humankind. The disciples had known him well: they had travelled, worked and eaten together. It must have been scandalous to entertain the possibility that he might indeed be what his name suggested, Jehoshua, ‘God to the rescue’. But once convinced, they did not waver.


Where evangelism is strong in the modern world there is a similarly robust emphasis on the historical truths of the incarnationatonement, and resurrection


One of the most notable impressions the literature of the first and second century made upon me as I wrote this book was the sheer passion of these early Christians. They were passionately convinced of the truth of the gospel. They were persuaded that men and women were lost without it. It was the key to eternal life, without which they would perish. They shared in God’s own love, poured out on a needy world. They paid heed to Christ’s Great Commission. Christianity for them was not an hour’s slot on a Sunday. It affected everything they did and everyone they met. 


The first Christians were rather like the early Communists: small groups bound together by an overmastering passion. Or like the Maquis in the Second World War, secret groups of men who would stop at nothing in order to bring the final day of victory nearer. But our Western churches show little of that spirit. They prefer to see themselves as a hospital rather than an army. Yet this almost military vision, commitment and sacrifice is a major characteristic of the overflowing churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America today. Not until we in the West burn with a passion, which is almost a pain, to reach people with the gospel will they be likely to take the matter seriously.


Much evangelism today is brash and unthinking; the intellectuals do not usually engage in it. This is our double loss: the practitioners do not know any theology and the theologians do not do any evangelism. In the early Church it was not so. This book shows how flexible the early evangelists were, getting inside the mindset of pagans and Jews alike, and transposing the gospel into the appropriate key in order to intrigue and engage them. 


One of the great needs of the modern Church is for those who evangelize to improve their theological understanding, and for those who are theologically competent to come out of the ivory tower and evangelize. The first Christians point us in that direction. And in today’s world, as in the first two centuries, people are unimpressed by mere talk. They need to see lives that are different.


There can be no doubt that it was the changed lifestyle of the early Christians which made such a deep impact upon classical antiquity. Three things in particular stood out.


First was the personal transformation in their character as the Holy Spirit was welcomed into their lives. Christians offered men and women a ministry of liberation, and it showed.


Second, there was the impression made by Christians corporately. The Church had qualities unparalleled in the ancient world. Nowhere else would you find slaves and masters, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, engaging in table fellowship and showing a real love for one another. That love overflowed to outsiders, and in times of plague and disaster the Christians shone by means of their service to the communities in which they lived. Nowadays the lifestyle of Christians is hard to distinguish from those who make no such claim—apart from an hour on Sundays. In the early days the quality of their lives was blazingly distinct. 


We need to love without strings attached. God loves like that.


Third, the capacity of Christians to face criticism, hatred, persecution and death not just with equanimity but with joy must have had a tremendous impact. We know it did. You could mow these Christians down, you could throw them to the lions, but you could not make them deny their Lord or hate their persecutors. Christians could be killed, but they couldn’t be broken.


The early Christians would not bow to the pluralist polytheism of the day. They acknowledged one God only, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. And they called on men and women to commit themselves to this living, true God. They demanded repentance and faith in response to the proclamation of the gospel. They were very bold about it, despite the opposition they encountered. There was no trace of compromise in their preaching. They looked for nothing less than total surrender to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed they went out of their way to ridicule pagan gods. Had they been willing to practice their Christianity while remaining silent about other deities they could have had a comparatively safe passage. But they insisted that there was no other God than the Father of Jesus Christ. He was a jealous God. His glory he would give to none other. Indeed there were no other gods to be considered.


This was flying in the face of all convention and social propriety. It provoked savage persecution and in many places it still does. We sometimes think that relativism and pluralism are peculiar to our time. We feel it politically correct to adopt them. Not so the early Christians. They lived in a world more relativist and far more pluralist than our own. And yet they would not make any compromise on this issue. What was needed was not more religion, but a new life—and Jesus could provide it.


We find it hard to be both loving and firm. We shy away from confrontation. We are embarrassed to claim that Jesus is the only way. It is regarded as intolerant, narrow-minded and discourteous. But that is what our forebears did. And that is what their descendants in many parts of the world are doing today. The rate of conversion to Christ worldwide is something in the region of 100,000 a day, the vast majority in the Two Thirds World. And they preach in the face of entrenched faiths like animism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. A great many perish for their pains. But they insist on Jesus Christ as the only way. They do it because whereas all other faiths represent men and women in search of God, this gospel of Christ portrays God in search of us. There is no other religion in the world that maintains anything remotely similar. 


Relationships are much more important than institutions. Authentic Christianity is not primarily an institution but a relationship. Christianity presents a Person that demanded a choice, not tolerance.


Neither the strategy nor the tactics of the first Christians were particularly remarkable. What was remarkable was their conviction, their passion and their determination to act as Christ’s embassy to a rebel world, whatever the consequences.


The early church did most of their evangelism on what we would call secular ground: laundries, street corners, wine bars. They talked about Jesus to all who would listen. Small open-air meetings were common. The early Christians had no churches during the first two centuries, the time of their major expansion. 


Personal conversations with individuals was important to them. One-to-one conversation is one of the most natural and effective ways of spreading the faith. There’s no hype, no manipulation, no soap-box oratory. 


The home provided the most natural context for spreading the gospel. In most parts of the world where there is an explosion of Christianity these days, home meetings are critical to the growth. They do not attract hostile attention. 


A natural development of the home meeting is church planting. It proved the most effective of all methods of evangelization in the ancient Church. 


A balanced church needs prophets (those who rely on charismatic gifts) and teachers (those who rely on the study of the Scriptures). The first Christians emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles is really a misnomer; they are the acts of the Holy Spirit, as he guides, empowers and leads the infant Christian community. Every new initiative is his. In particular the Spirit was valued for two great reasons. He it was who so worked within the lives of the Christians individually and the Church corporately that they began to be conformed more and more to the character of Jesus. And it was the Spirit who gave his followers remarkable spiritual gifts. 


People did not merely hear the gospel: they saw it in action, and were moved to respond. The Western Church has grown too dependent on words, and not nearly dependent enough on the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being a community demonstrating the Lord’s power, we have become one which talks incessantly. We need to remember that ‘the kingdom of God is not talk, but power’.


When Pentecostals come against spiritual forces which hold men and women in bondage, these are cast out by God’s Spirit and the result is a new liberation, indeed what the New Testament calls a new creation. It has long been fashionable for us to dismiss these gifts as unnecessary or unattainable today. We would be unwise to do so. They are part of God’s equipping of his Church for evangelism. In evangelism the intellect must never be separated from the practice.



Verse Completion. . . enter the kingdom of God! Luke 18:24 (NASB)


12/15/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/Xw38pGhPXIk



Complete the Verse & Name the BookThe man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and . . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Del McKenzie continued his series on “Godly Character Qualities” with the topic of acceptance. So far he has taught on gentleness, humility, integrity, endurance, responsibility, thankfulness, and forgiveness.


We live in a cruel world of physical cruelty, financial cruelty (those in power taking advantage of those under them), verbal cruelty, relational cruelty. Jesus was never cruel. He was firm and could be direct, but he was never cruel. He accepted people as they were. If we are going to be like Jesus, we need to be accepting of others. 


The opposite of acceptance is rejection. We are faced with a decision: accept or reject a person. What is my level of acceptance? Do I usually accept others or reject others?


Jesus accepted people. Matthew 9:10-13 says:


Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”


Jesus said in Matthew 11:18-19:


For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” 


Luke 15:1-3 says:


Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!


Jesus accepted people; he didn’t reject them. He called them to change, but he did it without rejection. 


When Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for” (Matthew 26:50a). Jesus was able to call his betrayer his friend. 


Acceptance means to receive with favor. Acceptance involves allowing people to have access to one’s heart—opening our hearts to people; inviting people into our circle. It’s accepting people for who they are. It’s being open and responsive to them regardless of their frailties, weaknesses, or flaws. 


Romans 14:1 says:


Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 


We are not to pass judgment on others. We are not to criticize and find fault with others. We are never to condemn someone God accepts. Galatians 6:1-3 says:


Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.


Acceptance involves an eagerness to forgive. Gossip has no part in forgiveness. 


When we reject a person, we refuse to be open. We refuse to be friendly. We need to be interested in people. Instead of talking about ourselves, we need to ask questions to get to know the other person. It’s been said, “I have yet to meet the person who couldn’t teach me something.” We need to be the pursuers of a friendship. 


Why do we refuse to be open?


·      It could be our own weakness. We may see something of ourselves in the other person, and it makes us uncomfortable and want to cut them off. 


·      It could be our inadequacy. We may never have learned how importance acceptance is. 


·      It could be we have been rejected by others (family, friends, leaders). Rejection can be real or imagined. 


·      It could be our rejection of God’s love. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says: The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.


What does it take to develop the character quality of acceptance?


·      Deal with the results of rejection. If we have feelings of unworthiness or inferiority or we struggle with periods of emotional depression (an internal temper tantrum), we need to deal with it and acknowledge subjectivity. 

·      Recognize there are limits to acceptance. We are not called to accept sin. We’re not called to make compromises with truth and righteousness. There are places we don’t go. 

·      Recognize rejection for what it is. We don’t blame others. We don’t blame the circumstances. 

·      Put the desires of the sinful nature to death. Titus 2:12-13 says: And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. When we don’t put our sinful nature to death we feel superior or inferior to others. Our selfishness carries over to every aspect of life. 

·      Remember the cross. We were bought at a horrendous price—the death of Jesus. Because Jesus bought us, God accepts us. We are justified by faith. We are justified by the blood of Jesus. To be justified means to be declared no longer guilty but righteous. When we are justified, we have peace with God. Our sin is pardoned. There’s forgiveness, cleansing, acceptance, sonship, and citizenship. If God accepts me, I should accept others. If God loves me, I should love others. 



Verse Completion. . . he receives favor from the LORD. Proverbs 18:22 (NLT)


12/14/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/4cP26ndrmtg



Complete the Verse & Name the Book. . . having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way . . . (completion at the end)



My cousin is the pastor of the Kailua Church of the Nazarene in Hawaii (hey, someone has to do the job) with the following website: https://kailuachurch.com


Today I would like to share a devotional he posted on Facebook:


DATE: December 11, 2020


BY: Pastor Bob Miller


TITLE: “HE Latched on to Me”


SCRIPTURE READPsalm 126:


When the LORD brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the LORD has done for them.” Yes, the LORD has done amazing things for us! What joy!

Restore our fortunes, LORD, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.


Habakkuk 3:2-6:


I have heard all about you, LORD. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy.

I see God moving across the deserts from Edom, the Holy One coming from Mount Paran. His brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise. His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. 

Rays of light flash from his hands, where his awesome power is hidden. Pestilence marches before him; plague follows close behind. When he stops, the earth shakes. When he looks, the nations tremble. He shatters the everlasting mountains and levels the eternal hills. He is the Eternal One!


Philippians 3:12-16:


I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.


SCRIPTURE SELECTED: Philippians 3: 12-14


OBSERVATION: As Paul gives his personal testimony he says that he hasn’t yet reached his goal but that he is pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ has for him. He then gives us advice for how He learned to be “satisfied” even as he is in the process of being made complete. He says “Forget what is behind” and keep your eyes focused on the goal which is ahead of you. Press on toward that goal with the intent on winning the prize for which God has called us.


APPLICATION: We have been given a purpose from God. We can live with focus and with a goal in mind. Each day given to us has meaning. We are to keep our eyes looking ahead and focused on what God has called us to. We can get side-tracked by ‘looking behind us” or focusing on our yesterdays…our failures…our successes. Instead let us celebrate that we have been taken hold of by Jesus and He invites us to travel with Him to the goal which He has set before us.


PRAYER: “Lord, thank You for setting me free from my past…for not giving up on me, for not letting go of me! Today, I’m ready to press on to what You have for me today. I know that it is in the “living” towards Your purpose that I experience life to its fullest. I don’t want to waste today. I want this day to count, and so I press on to take hold of what You have called me to! Amen.



Verse Completion. . . having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:14 (NASB)


12/12/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/vC7DeB4rT5U



Complete the Verse & Name the BookHaughtiness goes before destruction; . . . (completion at the end)



Today we will conclude Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of a Deceased Church with a summary of chapters eleven through fourteen primarily using quotes from the book.


As an elder of a deceased church gave the author a tour of the church building, he said softly, “This is it.” The sign was still on the room: Lydia Room. “This room was the equivalent of a parlor or bride’s room in other churches,” he offered without any questions from me. “There was a great pride about this room,” he said. “It had the nicest furniture. It got first attention before anything else in the church.”


He continued his story, and it was sadly typical. The room would become the focus of dissension. Who could use it? Who decided what furniture went in there? Could people outside the church use it? Could a normal church fellowship be held there?


“The arguments were pretty ugly,” he said. “And I don’t think I knew it at the time, but looking back, our focus on this room marked the beginning of our steep decline. We fought over a stupid room while the church died.”


Church fights have erupted over stained glass windows, pews, draperies, paint color, carpet color, and so on. Dying churches, more often than not, experience severe battles over facility obsession before their demise.


Being a good steward of those material things that God has given our churches is good. Becoming obsessed with any one item to the neglect of His mission is idolatry. Jesus said, “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). 


If we divide churches in America into categories and assign percentages, it would be close to the following:


·      Healthy—10%


·      Symptoms of sickness—40% 


·      Very sick—40%


·      Dying—10%


Let’s take a look at churches that show symptoms of sickness. One of the signs that sickness might be taking hold includes a pervasive attitude in the church that the best days are in the past. They also have a decline in attendance over the past five years. When numbers are ignored, they tend to get even worse. The church moves from an outward focus to an inward focus. Most have no clean plan for making disciples. There’s a lot of program and ministry clutter—much busyness and activity, but a great deal of it has no meaningful purpose. Most activities contribute little or nothing to the making of disciples. 


How should we respond if our church shows symptoms of sickness?


1.   Pray that God will open the eyes of the leadership and members for opportunities to reach into the community where the church is located.


2.   Take an honest audit of how church members spend their time being involved. They should not be involved in ministries for themselves to the exclusion of ministries beyond the church.


3.   Take an audit of how the church spends its money. Are funds being spent on their own members rather than reaching the community?


4.   Make specific plans to minister and to evangelize your community. 


Now let’s look at churches that are very sick. Typically, churches move from symptoms of sickness to very sick through a slow process. Movement is difficult to detect. From one day to the next, nothing seems to change. But there’s an underlying deterioration taking place. Once the church is very sick, it is extremely difficult to get better. 


Very sick churches see a significant decline in attendance over the past ten to twenty years. There are prolonged times of apathy with occasional times of intense conflict. The church isn’t known in the community. New members are rare. There’s a revolving door of pastors. The “good old days” are typically twenty or more years in the past.


Most churches in this category move to the next category of dying churches. God usually works with a willing people and willing leaders (Moses, Nehemiah, Haggai). Reversal is possible, but God usually waits for a willing leader who will find willing people. 


How should we respond if our church is very sick?


1.   The church must admit and confess its dire need.


2.   The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary. 


3.   The church must be willing to change radically.


4.   That change must lead to action and an outward focus.


It’s very difficult to revive a very sick church, but it’s not impossible. Jesus said in Matthew 19:26: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”


The universal church will never die, but churches die. Individual congregations die. People may be in denial, but it may be time to let go. What can you do in the last days of your congregation to make sure that your church’s death can actually make a difference for good for the Kingdom? Here are four options:


1.   Sell the property and give the funds to another church, perhaps a new church that has begun or will soon begin.


2.   Give the building to another church.


3.   If your church is in a transitional neighborhood, turn over the leadership and property to those who actually reside in the neighborhood. 


4.   Merge with another church, but let the other church have the ownership and leadership of your church. In this way you are allowing a healthy church to take over your church. That’s sacrificial. That is a way to die with dignity. You are allowing your church to die so that another may live.



Verse Completion. . . humility precedes honor. Proverbs 18:12 (NLT)


12/11/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/eMcK_Cevxyw



Complete the Verse & Name the BookCome to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, . . . (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Dr. Michael Wedman taught from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 with a lesson titled “Life of God.”


In Chapter Four, Paul was writing about sanctification: living in purity, wholeness, and rightness before God. It includes growing in Christ, maturing in Christ—becoming more like Christ in our words and actions. One area of sanctification is the area of what happens when we die, eternity, and the second coming of Christ. 


In Luke 23:28 Jesus said (as he walked with the cross behind him on his way to be crucified), “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” When a follower of Christ dies, we don’t weep for them because they have gone to a better place; we weep for ourselves. 


Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. 

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.


The Thessalonians wondered when Jesus would return to earth. Paul said the coming of Jesus would be like a thief in the night—when people least expect it. When people think they are safe and secure, the thief strikes. Paul also compared the return of Jesus to birth pains that indicate the baby will be born “soon,” but there’s no way of pinpointing the time. Jesus said it a little differently in Matthew 24:37-39, when he said his coming would be like it was in Noah’s day when people were enjoying banquets and parties right up to the time when Noah entered the boat. The people were caught off guard. Therefore, we need to live in expectant obedience so we won’t be caught off guard.


Paul reminds the Thessalonians they are new creatures in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! Titus 3:5-6 says: [God] saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Before we become followers of Jesus, we go our own way, but after we become followers of Jesus, we go his way. There’s night and day difference between the two paths. We become children of light instead of darkness. We become salt and light. We become people of truth. We live differently from how we used to live: we don’t talk the same way we used to talk, we don’t do what we used to do; we don’t go where we used to go. We are changed people because we have the Holy Spirit living in us. We also live differently because Jesus is returning. 


We need to understand the times and know that Jesus is returning. We need to be ready for his return. 


Sin is associated with darkness; holiness is associated with the light. It’s easier to commit sins in the dark rather than in the light. We are to be sober rather than drunk. Ephesians 5:18-19 says: Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. Paul is comparing light and dark, good and evil, soberness and drunkenness, purity and sin. The common thread is control—we are to be under the control of the Holy Spirit rather than something else. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control. He makes it possible for us to control what we do with our body, tongue, and mind. 


As people of the light, we live with faith, hope, and love. A breastplate protects vital organs. Our faith in God and our love for God and others protect our vital organs. They keep us alive in Christ. A helmet protects the mind. Paul talked about putting on the helmet of salvation, so we think about salvation, live knowing we are saved, live knowing we are children of the light. Ephesians 6:10-17 says:


A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


In order to live lives different from the world, we need to make sure we have this armor on each day. We receive this armor from Jesus.  


To help us understand light and darkness, let’s look at Ephesians 5:8-16:


For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. 

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 


We are children of the light. We walk in the light. We live different lives from those who are children of the darkness. We shine the light of Christ on people wherever we go. We shine the light on the darkness so the darkness is exposed—so sins are exposed and people see they need forgiveness for those sins. 


Children of the light have a different knowledge, a different way to live, and a different eternity. The wrath of God comes when Christ returns for judgment. However, disciples of Christ have a different appointment from the world. Disciples of Christ have an appointment with everlasting life regardless of whether a person is dead or alive at his return. 


We are to encourage each other with the words that Jesus is coming again, and he will take all of his followers to live with him through all of eternity. When Jesus returns, he is going to judge sin, so we need to be right before him. We need to believe in him and receive him as our Lord and Savior. We’re to follow hard after him and stay alert for his coming.


We need to build each other up. It’s important to gather together to do this—one-on-one, in small groups, or in a church service. We need to be in the company of other believers so we can encourage each other and build each other up. Because we have a sin nature and sin (even though we don’t want to), we can encourage one another with 1 John 1:9:


But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.


 We need to remind each other that grace is greater than sin. It’s good to have an accountability partner—someone we can confess our sins to. We need to be people of grace that forgive others. We need to say, “Jesus died for that sin. Let’s go to Jesus and find forgiveness.” Too often we are judgmental and hard on each other. We don’t need to be judges; we need to be encouragers that build each other up. We need to remind each other that Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave on the third day, is sitting at the right hand of God, offers forgiveness of sins, offers grace to anyone who will receive him including disciples of Christ. We are to confess our sins to Christ. There’s nothing to fear, because Jesus wants to forgive our sins. Jesus wants us to come out of the dark and step into the light and walk as children of light. 


Jesus is returning. Live in expectant obedience and encourage each other.



Verse Completion. . . and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NASB)


12/10/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/zp2gCXZTwgY



Complete the Verse & Name the BookThe name of the LORD is a strong fortress; . . . (completion at the end)



Today we will continue with a summary of Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of a Deceased Church. We will cover chapters eight through ten primarily using quotes from the book.


For the majority of the churches that failed, pastors came and went at a pace of every two to three years, especially in the two decades leading to the deaths of the churches. The cycle was predictable. The church was declining. The church would call a new pastor with the hope that the pastor could lead the church back to health. The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. In some cases, the pastor was fired. Repeat cycle.


When interviewing church members of churches that failed, the question was asked, “Did the church members pray together?”  Inevitably they paused; they weren’t sure how to answer the question. 


Most of the churches, almost to the day they shut the doors, had some type of prayer time. It may have been a part of the worship services. It may have been with some type of fellowship like a Wednesday evening meal described by a member as follows: “Someone would pass out the prayer list, and one person would have the blessing and pray for those on the list. Then we would eat.”


Let’s contrast that kind of praying with the praying that took place in the early church described in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.” Note what these followers of Christ found important: the apostles’ teaching (the Word of God), the fellowship and the breaking of bread (each other), and the prayers. The word devoted has much intensity and deliberation. It is like a wild and hungry beast ready to devour its prey. When the early Jerusalem church members devoted themselves to prayer, they were doing a lot more than reading names off a list. They were ferventintense, and passionate about prayer. They had no doubt that God was listening and responding. A failure to pray was tantamount to a failure to breathe.


Prayer was not an add-on to give them permission to eat a meal. It was serious stuff for a serious group of church members. Prayer was the lifeblood of the early church.


One church member of a deceased church said, “There was a day when prayer was powerful in our church. People would pray before the worship services. Small groups spent a lot of time in prayer. We prayed intensely for our community. Then our community changed. We stopped praying with the passion we once had. That was the beginning of the decline that led to our death. We stopped taking prayer seriously.”


In 1990, the United States hockey team won the gold medal by defeating the Soviets and Finland. The U.S. team was made up of players who came from colleges and universities across America. They were the underdogs—highly unlikely that they would take home a medal. The turning point for the team came when Coach Herb Brooks changed their mindset of playing for their school to playing for the United States of America. Only then did they clearly understand their purpose. They also clearly understood how to carry out their purpose. 


Dying churches didn’t have a purpose. None of the members talked about carrying out the Great Commandment. No one spoke with a burning passion about making a difference in the community. They were stuck in “This is the way we’ve always done it.”


Paul had an unfading love for the church members at Philippi. He told them:


“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5).


The church at Philippi understood her purpose: live the gospel, proclaim the gospel, partner with Paul in the gospel. Their purpose was totally and completely gospel-centered, and the members did not stop understanding their purpose. 


Dying churches forget their purpose through a slow but deadly process. Attitudes shift from gospel-centered and other-centered to self-centered. An outward focus became an inward obsession. 



Verse Completion: . . . the godly run to him and are safe. Proverbs 18:10 (NLT)


12/9/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/U1Cax99gVSA



Complete the Verse & Name the BookWith it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing . . .  (completion at the end)



Today’s devotional will consist of contributions from my two sisters. I have a sister in South Africa and a sister in Wheaton, Illinois . . . we get along better that way—JUST KIDDING! Life happens and we ended up where we ended up. Our four children are spread out, too: Hamilton, MT; Santa Rosa, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Beaverton, OR. At least we won’t get COVID from each other this way. 


My younger sister in South Africa sent me this article, and I thought it did a good job of putting things into perspective:


U.S.—Across the country, there is general consensus that 2020 has been the "worst year ever." According to studies, 82% of Americans agree that 2020 has been a terrible year of unprecedented suffering and misery. Experts confirmed that 2020 was indeed the worst year, provided you have never lived in virtually any other time period in all of human history.


"We noticed that most of the respondents who called 2020 the worst year also enjoyed delicious food being delivered to them for 8 months while they sat on their couches with the air conditioning on and binge-watched shows the whole time," said one researcher.


"While we understand it hasn't been easy, we also found very few instances of Viking raids, Black Plague, famine, world war, using rotary telephones, needing to look things up in a physical dictionary, slavery, people being burned at the stake, walking miles to school, living in caves, sleeping on the ground, ice ages, Nazi holocausts, civil war, infant mortality, global floods, ethnic cleansing, using leaves as toilet paper, using leeches as medicine, using wooden mallets as an anesthetic, fighting wild saber-tooth tigers, cannibalism, occupation by the Persian Empire... what was I talking about again? Oh yeah-- most people in 2020 never experienced any of those things, so comparatively speaking it's been a pretty decent year!"


Now I would like to share part of my older sister’s Christmas letter. This comes all the way from Wheaton, IL:


People around the world who have been raised in the Christian faith know that the Christmas story involves the birth of a miraculous child by a virgin called Mary, the shepherds, a choir of angels and a baby lying in a manger. These images conjure up warm feelings and thankfulness for God’s one and only Son invading our world.


However, there is a dark side to the Christmas story that we often forget. When the Magi from the east came to Jerusalem looking for the new born king of the Jews King Herod went into panic mode. This egomaniac who even had his own sons killed so they would not try to replace him sent out soldiers to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Thankfully, Joseph immediately obeyed the angel’s command to quickly arise and take his wife and Jesus to Egypt so avoid the murderous threat of King Herod.


Unfortunately, the parents of children who were killed by the soldiers suffered great sorrow, loss and depression. Depression is most often associated with loss of some kind. This Christmas many in our world are facing debilitating depression over the loss of a loved one to COVID 19, loss of their business, loss of income, loss of their home, loss of self-esteem and loss of hope. This could shape up to not be a merry and bright Christmas but a dark and dreary Christmas.


What can we do to address this reality in our own lives and in the lives of those around us? The writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament was grappling with believers who had come under intense pressure to give up their faith in Jesus and walk away. He writes: “Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you and other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them”(10:32-34 Message Bible). 


After acknowledging the rough times, they are enduring the writer to the Hebrews declares:“Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together (even by Facebook, You Tube, church web-site) as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day (of His second coming) approaching” (10:23-25 Message Bible). 


This Christmas can be re-shaped from cold depression to a sense of joy and inward peace if we move outside ourselves and care and love those around us. It is in this spirit that we wish you a merry Christmas 2020.



Verse Completion. . . My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. James3:9-10 (NASB)


12/8/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/FDeOmxccsD0



Complete the Verse & Name the BookA lazy person is as bad as someone who. . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Del McKenzie continued his series on “Godly Character Qualities” with the topic of forgiveness. So far he has taught on gentleness, humility, integrity, endurance, responsibility, and thankfulness.


As in everything good, Jesus is our perfect example. When he was dying on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34a). 


In John 8:4-11, the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”


Jesus forgave her sins.


Jesus said in John 3:17: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”


Forgiveness is so needed today. Forgiveness needs to happen between husbands and wives, parents and children, with neighbors, with church members, at work, on the road. We know we have truly forgiven someone when we can pray for them and pray that God would bless them. 


Let’s work at answering seven questions:


1.   What is it to forgive? In the Greek New Testament, forgiveness means to send forth (send away) or let go. We let go of hurts, wrongs that have been done to us, and sins that have been committed against us. When we forgive, we give up a claim for justice. When we don’t forgive, we want justice; we want the person to pay for the wrong they have done. 


When we don’t forgive, we are quick to criticize and condemn the person who did wrong. It easy for the criticism to turn into contempt for the person. An unforgiving person wants the person who did wrong to be punished. An unforgiving spirit can lead to resentment and bitterness. 


We often want a response from the person who has hurt us. We want the person to apologize before we forgive, but that’s not forgiveness.


2.   What is the character quality of forgiveness? It’s to have a heart that freelyconsistently, and quickly lets go of any hurt or wrong that is done to us. We have freely received forgiveness from Jesus; we are freely to give forgiveness to others. We are to let go of any anger, resentment, or hatred we might have toward another person. Each forgiveness test we pass makes us stronger. We are to forgive all wrongs, not just some wrongs. 


3.   What is the opposite of forgiveness? The opposite is not letting go. It’s hanging on to a hurt, wrong, or sin. We can keep the wrong in our minds and brew on it. We can not let it go emotionally so we become angry, bitter, resentful, or upset. We can hang on to it socially and verbally by telling others about how badly we’ve been hurt. Revenge seeks to hurt the person back for the wrong that was done. 


4.   Why should we be sure we have forgiveness? We want to be like Jesus and be changed into his image. 1 John 1:9 says: But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. Jesus is our model and King. We need to give forgiveness to be godly and to be healthy. Unforgiveness can be a reason for mental illness. Unforgiveness can affect our physical health as well. To be healthy spiritually, we need to have forgiveness. Can two walk together unless they agree?


5.   How can we truly forgive? It’s by the power of God within us. By his grace we are forgiven. By his grace we forgive others. We are loved by God, and we can pass that love on to others. God has forgiven us of our sins. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). We read in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” We need to repeatedly thank God for his forgiveness. Titus 2:12-13 says: And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.


6.   How can we develop forgiveness as a way of life? We give all condemnation to God. It’s not our place to condemn; let God do it. Romans 12:19 says: Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Pray for people who mistreat you. Romans 14:17 says: For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It’s internal. It’s the Holy Spirit working in our lives. 


7.   Is there a big need for forgiveness? Yes! In a church there were two sisters who hadn’t spoken to each other in 20 years. We can’t count all the sins we’ve been forgiven. We need to forgive others. We need to apologize when we wrong another person. Jesus taught us to pray: “. . . forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Two verses later Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” 



Verse Completion. . . destroys things. Proverbs 18:9 (NLT)


12/7/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/NzEX3QMuVPM



Complete the Verse & Name the BookIn the world you have tribulation, but take courage . . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Pastor Michael’s text for his sermon “Waiting and Watching” was Matthew 24:36-51. Here is a recap of that message:


Have you ever received a meme on social media that has the caption “Wait for it?” It usually means something unexpected is about to happen. If Matthew was writing Chapter 24 today, he just might post a meme on Facebook that says, “Wait for it!” When you don’t expect it, Jesus will return.


“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (verse 36).


It might seem strange that Jesus wouldn’t know when his return to earth would take place since he is God the Son. In John 10:30 Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” In John 8:58 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” Jesus is God. Jesus is the Messiah. It seems like if God the Father knows when Jesus will return to earth, God the Son would know, too, since they are one. 


When Jesus came to earth, he limited himself to a human body and human mind. Jesus willingly gave up some of the divine attributes of being with the Father to live on earth as a human being. Philippians 2:6-8 says:


Though [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.


By receiving a human body, Jesus limited his divine abilities. There were times when Jesus knew the future, times when he knew things he couldn’t have known on his own as a human being, but he knew those things because he was in constant communion with the Father. Jesus did his works by the Spirit of God in him. Since Jesus never sinned, he was never separated from God. Everything he did was done with utter dependence on the Father. Jesus was in constant communion with the Father. 


Jesus gave up some of his divinity to become human, and God the Father decided not to tell God the Son when the timing of his return would be. Jesus accepted not knowing when his return would be, and he never complained about not knowing. Jesus was always content to live as the Father directed him to live. 


If the angels in heaven and Jesus don’t know when his return will take place, how is it that we think we know? We can’t know the date, and we shouldn’t know the date. All the books that predict the date Jesus will return are false. Those that say there’s a code in the Bible and when that code is broken Christ’s return date will be known, are false prophets. 


“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. 

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left” (verses 37-41).


We are to be living in expectation of his return. We are to be watching and waiting. Noah was watching and waiting for the rains to begin. Those who weren’t watching and waiting were lost when the flood came. Those who aren’t watching and waiting for Christ’s return will be lost as the people in Noah’s day were lost. Judgment Day is coming. Christ’s return is imminent—it could happen at any time. Those who are watching and waiting will be caught up in the clouds and joined with Jesus in heaven.  


“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (verse 42). Jesus didn’t say to figure out the day of his return; he said watch for him because the day of his return isn’t known. 


“Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into” (verse 43).


Burglars do not announce when they are going to break into a house. It’s plotted in secret.


“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (verse 44).


We need to spend our time and energy in knowing who is coming rather than when he’s coming. We need to know Jesus and be ready for his return whenever it takes place.


“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verses 45-51).


What is watching and waiting all about? What do we need to do to be ready for Christ’s return? What does living in the expectancy of his coming mean? What does paying attention to his words look like? 


If the master of a house left for a period of time, he would leave others in charge of the place until his return. Those in charge would need to give what’s necessary to the workers so they can accomplish their tasks. A faithful servant is obedient to the master, and the master rewards the obedience. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”


On the other hand, if a servant has the attitude of “when the cat’s away; the mice will play,” he will start doing things against the household instead of for the household. He will spend his time and resources on a different kingdom. 


In this parable, the master is Jesus and the kingdom is the Kingdom of God. The servant is supposed to be spending his time and resources on the Kingdom of God. Instead of obeying Jesus, instead of following Jesus, instead of watching, waiting, paying attention, and living in obedient expectancy of Christ’s return, he neglects God’s kingdom and does whatever he wants. 


We don’t know when Christ will return. It’s similar to when a parent leaves the house for a few days and leaves teenagers in charge of the house. The teenagers know the parents are returning but they don’t know exactly when. They have a choice: they can be faithful to their parents and do what they’ve asked, or they can rebel and do whatever they want to do. When the parents return, they will know if their kids were watching and waiting for their return or if they chose to ignore their instructions.


Are we waiting and watching for Christ’s return? Do we live in expectant obedience? Are we walking as Jesus would walk? Are we caring for people the way he would care for people? Are we doing the things that reflect Christ? Are we paying attention to his words, or do we not care about his return? We can’t know when he will return, but we can know Jesus. We can spend our time getting to know everything he’s told us instead of spending our time trying to find out what he hasn’t told us. 


The judgment that comes upon those who don’t wait and watch is hell—a place where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth; a place of complete separation from God. 


Jesus is returning. Wait and watch for his return. Live in expectant obedience.



Verse Completion. . . I have overcome the world. John 16:33b (NASB)


12/5/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/QP0TGh6c-Ss



Complete the Verse & Name the BookUnfriendly people care only about themselves; they lash out at . . .  (completion at the end)



Today we will continue with a summary of Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of a Deceased Church. We will cover chapters five through seven.


When you conduct the autopsy of a church, you must follow the money. For where the money of the church goes, so goes its heart. Often personnel costs are the last cuts to be made. Why? Because the church members viewed the staff as their personal caretakers. Those who were paid by the church were supposed to spend most, if not all, of their time visiting the members, counseling the members, attending functions with the members, and so on. That means staff members aren’t reaching out to others beyond the church. That means they aren’t involved in the community. That means they are mostly hired hands for church members. In dying churches the last expenditures to be reduced are those that keep the members most comfortable. The first to go are outreach and community ministries. 


Like the man in Mark 10 that was told by Jesus, “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” we hold on to things because we want our way of life. We want comfort. We want possessions. That’s what happens to churches that die. They spend for their way of doing church. They spend for their comfort. They spend on possessions. 


Sometimes churches accumulate money because they fear not having enough. They no longer ask how the church can make a difference for the Kingdom with the money. Money rather than ministry becomes the focus. The churches that died preferred to spend money to keep the machinery of the church moving and keep members happy rather than funding the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. No church can sustain an inward focus indefinitely. 


Thriving churches have the Great Commission as the centerpiece of their vision, while dying churches have forgotten the clear command of Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizingthem in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Notice the action verbs in bold. That’s what we are to do.


Members of the dying church weren’t willing to go into the community to reach and minister to people. They weren’t willing to invite their unchurched friends and relatives. They weren’t willing to expend the funds necessary for a vibrant outreach. They just wanted it to happen--without prayer, without sacrifice, and without hard work.


But here’s the bigger issue. Even if the church began to grow on its own, the members of the dying church would only accept the growth if the new members were like them and if the church would continue to “do church” the way they wanted it. 


The Great Commission requires at least two points of obedience: they are to go, and they are to depend totally upon the power of Christ. The deceased church stopped going and it stopped depending on Christ. Going requires effort; it’s work. Obedience in His power means we pray to Jesus to reach others. This requires an “other” focus; a focus beyond ourselves. The deceased churches chose their own comfort over reaching others with the gospel. The Great Commission became the great omission. 


A church cannot survive long-term where members are focused on their own preferences: music, length of service, order of service, color and design, activities and programs, ministers and staff. We need to have the attitude found in Philippians 2:5-11:


You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


We are to be servants. We are to be obedient. We are to put others first. We are to do whatever it takes to seek the best for others and our church. Rather than having a self-sacrificing attitude, autopsied churches were self-serving, self-giving, and self-entitled.


The Love Dare was a book written for husbands and wives. It was designed to strengthen marriages. Every day for forty days a husband or wife is to do something selflessly for his or her spouse. Each is to seek to look after the interests of the other. That’s how we are to be with the body of Christ. We don’t exist to serve ourselves; we exist for the greater good of the body. Paul gives us some ways we can live this out in Romans 12:9-21:


Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.



Verse Completion. . . common sense. Proverbs 18:1 (NLT)


12/4/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/XG347euXoTM



Complete the Verse & Name the BookAbout midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were . . .  (completion at the end)



Yesterday, Dr. Michael Wedman taught from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 with a lesson titled “The Hope of God.”


What happens after death? That is a question every person asks at some point in their life. When Paul wrote Thessalonians, the Greek philosophers said that death resulted in nothingness. There was no belief in life after death. One of the philosophers said, “In life there is hope; in death there is no hope.” 


One of the questions the Thessalonians had after Paul preached about life after death was, “What happens to those who die before the return of Christ?” Let’s see how Paul answered this question:


And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.


In times of trial, it’s comforting to know we are loved by God. Paul calls them brothers and sisters. He wants them to know they are part of the family of God and are loved by God.


Paul wants them to understand truth—what God says about death and life after death. What we know determines how we live. When we learn something new, it can change the way we live. For example, if we find out the hours of operation for a store have changed, we will change when we go to the store.


As disciples of Christ, when we die our bodies cease to function but our spirit continues on in life. Philippians 1:23-24 says: I’m torn between the two desires [life and death]: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.


Departing from this life results in life with Christ. There’s no interim period. When we leave the body, we are with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 says:


So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.


When we die we go from being spiritually alive with Jesus here on earth to being spiritually alive with Jesus in heaven. There is no period of nothingness. One of the criminals on the cross said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).


When the spirit leaves the body, believers in Christ are immediately with Jesus. There’s really no finality in death for Christians. There’s a different grief that believers and non-believers have when a death occurs. Philippians 1:20-22 says:


For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.


We are able to exalt Christ in our death. It can be a testimony of staying true to Christ to the end. Paul says that death is gain because something is gained in death that is not possible in life—a face to face relationship to Jesus, everlasting life, perfection, heaven. Death is not something to be feared but something to look forward to. In contrast, our society sees death as something to not look forward to; it’s something we need to postpone as long as possible by exercising, eating healthy, and so on. Revelation 21:4 says:


[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.


For the Christian, death is better than life, and that’s why they grieve differently than the non-Christian. 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 says:


But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Paul does not tell us we shouldn’t grieve when a death occurs. He tells us we shouldn’t grieve without hope. He said in Philippians 2:27:


And [Epaphroditus] certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.


We grieve, but we grieve with hope. Our hope is based on truths: 


·      Jesus overcame death. He rose from the grave.

·      Jesus will raise us who believe in him from the dead.

·      When Christ returns, believers who have died will be raised from the dead first.

·      When Christ returns, those believers who are alive will follow those who rose from the dead.


Matthew 24:30-31 has the following words of Jesus:


“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.”


When we die our spirit continues to live and immediately goes to be with Jesus. This might appear to conflict with the words: “First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves” (1 Thessalonians 4:16b). When we die our spiritual life continues on and we are immediately with Christ. When Christ returns, believers who have died will get a new physical body. Believers’ spirits will be joined with their new physical bodies. It’s likely that the new bodies will be recognizable because when Jesus rose from the dead, he was recognizable to those who knew him. 


Not only will there be new bodies, but there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Our new bodies will be perfect—no longer subject to sin or the effects of sin, never diseased, never feeling pain. 


Because of the hope we have in Jesus, based on truth, we are to encourage others with this hope. Encourage here means we are:


·      to counsel one another

·      to comfort one another

·      to help one another

·      to care for one another

·      to come along side one another

·      to be with one another

·      to talk with one another 


We are to live life together. 


Our culture tends to say very little about death, so we tend to not bring the topic up. We feel uncomfortable talking about death. We don’t know what to say. We’re afraid we will say the wrong thing and hurt someone. 


As disciples of Christ when death comes, we are to be there for each other as they grieve for their loved one: talking about it, praying about it, counseling about it, wrapping arms around the person, holding hands, grieving with the person. Like everything else in the Christian life, we don’t do it alone. We’re part of the family of God—the body of Christ. We approach others in the Spirit of Christ. We don’t grieve for the disciple of Christ who has died; we grieve for our loss because it will be difficult to not have that person around. 


Paul said in Romans 8:37-39:


No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Death will not separate believers from Christ; it will draw believers closer to Christ. Death gives us the final, perfect relationship with Christ that we have been longing for. We become conquerors. Death is not the end; it’s the beginning. It’s not loss; it’s gain. It’s not defeat; it’s victory. 



Verse Completion. . . listening to them. Acts 16:25 (NIV)


12/3/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/48CuhRAjLyE



Complete the Verses & Name the Book

·      A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding. . . 


·      Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, . . .(completions at the end)



Today, we will take a look at the first four chapters of Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of a Deceased Church primarily using quotes from the book.


Autopsies are performed on humans to find out why they died. The discoveries might give surviving family members information they need to avoid the same path as their loved one.


Sometimes a forensic pathologist performs an autopsy to discover how a murder was committed or how an accident happened. The information is always useful. It sometimes brings people to justice. 


Jesus told Peter that the Church will never die: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). Indeed, the Church will never die, but churches have and are dying. If we perform autopsies on churches that have died, we may be able to gain information and keep our church from dying. 


Slow erosion can be very dangerous. The author grew up in a town he described as “a good place to grow up, though the amenities were few.” He moved away from the town and returned many years later to find it practically dead. He asked an elderly man who had lived there his entire life what had happened to the town, and his reply was, “What do you mean?” He hadn’t noticed the deterioration. His perspective was day-by-day. A person doesn’t see much change in a day.


It is rare for a long-term church member to see erosion in his or her church. Slow erosion is the worst type of decline for churches, because the members have no sense of urgency to change. The decline could be in the building itself, but it could also be in the vibrant ministries that once existed, a decline in prayer lives, a decline in outward focus, a decline in the connection with the community, and a decline in the hopes and dreams for the church. Decline could be happening, but it goes unnoticed. 


This is not a new problem. Haggai tells about a time in 520 BC when the Jews started to rebuild the Temple. They began by laying the foundation, but then they started working on their own houses and did no work on the Temple for a decade. God didn’t like his Temple being neglected back then, and he doesn’t like it today either. 


The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as hero. They weren’t hanging onto biblical truths, Christian morality, doctrines; they were hanging onto the past—the good old days; the way it used to be.


The Bible is full of heroes: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. They obeyed God even though they didn’t know the consequences of their obedience. They saw themselves as foreigners of this land and life, temporary residents of the earth. They sacrificed their comfort, their homes, their ways of life, and their possessions because they knew that this life was only temporary, that a better and eternal life awaited them. The “good old days” didn’t exist in their minds. The future held the best days. We might respect the past and even revere the past, but we can’t live in the past. 


Dying churches focus on their own needs instead of the needs of others. They look inwardly instead of outwardly. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is often heard in dying churches. Some churches prefer death to change, and death is what they’ll get.


The typical scenario of a church that died would be: In the “good old days” the church was booming as residents in the community flocked to the church. The church was a part of the community, and it reflected the community. Then the community began to change. In some cases the change was ethnic or racial. In other cases it was age-related. And sometimes it was simply a socioeconomic change. The change was real and the members felt it.


A fortress is designed to keep people and possessions on the inside safe, and to keep people on the other side out. That’s what happened in churches that died—people in the community didn’t feel welcome. 


Whenever local churches are mentioned in the New Testament, they are always exhorted to be other-centered. Paul told the church at Philippi to look after the interests of others even as it considered its own interests. Dying churches are concerned with self-preservation. They are concerned with a certain way of doing church. They are all about self. They are closed to those God has called them to minister to. The churches stop looking like the community in which they are located and become self-gratifying. 



Completions to Verses:


·      . . . is even-tempered.


·      . . . they seem intelligent. Proverbs 17:27-28 (NLT)


God is Good


12/2/20


Good morning. Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/iO7ySn-Swwc



Complete the Verse & Name the BookThe entire law is summed up in a single command: . . . (completion at the end)



Have you ever been depressed? There’s a lot happening during these days of COVID and isolation that can get a person down. You might be so far down that it would take supernatural power to raise you up. Let’s read about that power that is possible in Ezekiel 37:1-14:


The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ’Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ “

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’ “

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again, and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’ “


It sounds like there were a lot of depressed people in Israel. They were so down they said, “We have become old dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.” When all hope is gone, a person or country is in dire straits! They’re as good as dead, but there’s hope for those who are so far gone they are essentially dead! God made muscles and flesh form over their bones, skin form to cover their bodies, and he breathed life into them. There’s hope for you no matter what condition you are in! You’re not dead if you’re reading this. God gave hope to those who were “dead,” so there’s hope for you! 


The best part is God will put his Spirit in us, and we will live again. If you have hit bottom, offer up this prayer to God:


Father God, I am tired. I am weary. All the hope I had is gone. I don’t know how I can carry on living in these conditions. You are going to have to do a miracle to get these dry old bones working again. I’m asking for that miracle. I’m asking you to cause muscles and flesh to form over my bones. I’m asking you to form skin to cover my body. I’m asking you to breathe into me life so I can live again. Put your Spirit in me so I can live again. I know you are the only one who has the power to do this, and my faith is in you. In faith I am thanking you for answering my prayer. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.


John 14:1-3 has the following words of Jesus:


“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”


The longer you have to wait for an event, the more that event is appreciated once it arrives. When I was a kid, I had to wait a long time to get a bicycle—years. When that day finally arrived one Christmas, I was overjoyed. It was probably the happiest day of my life up to that point. If I had asked my parents for a bicycle and been given one later that day, there wouldn’t have been near as much rejoicing. It wasn’t “fun” in those waiting years, just like it probably isn’t “fun” in these COVID months (years?). It’s probably not “fun” for persecuted Christians waiting for Christ’s return, but can you imagine their joy when Christ returns (whether they are dead or alive)?!


Luke 12:25 has the following words of Jesus:


“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”


By the power of God, we ask God to give our dead bones life.



Verse Completion. . . “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14 (NIV)


A Wildly Uneven Exchange


12/1/20


Good morning. Welcome to December!


Song for the Day: https://youtu.be/ZFHuU9fgdWQ



Complete the Verse & Name the BookA single rebuke does more for a person of understanding . . . (completion at the end)



 Yesterday, Pastor Del McKenzie continued his series on “Godly Character Qualities” with the topic of thankfulness. So far he has taught on gentleness, humility, integrity, endurance, and responsibility. 


One of the character qualities of Jesus was thankfulness. Right before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me . . .” (John 11:40-41). Without Jesus, it wouldn’t be possible for us to pray to the Father because Jesus is the mediator between God and man. We are thankful for Jesus. We are thankful that the Father hears us, because sometimes he chooses not to hear us. Isaiah 1:15 says: When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.


In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, we read in Mark 6:41: Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, [Jesus] gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.


In the story of the feeding of the four thousand, we read in Matthew 15:35-36: [Jesus] told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.


In the story of the last supper, we read in Matthew 26:26: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”


For us to become like Jesus, we need to develop thankfulness. Let’s take a look at five aspects of thankfulness:


1.   What is thankfulness? Thanks is our response to something good that has come to us. Thanks shows appreciation. There’s a difference between giving thanks and having thankfulness. We might give thanks once a week but it doesn’t necessarily come out of a thankful heart. When we are thankful, it’s a natural thing for us to give thanks. Gratitude is a positive inner response to the good that has come to us. It’s recognizing the ways God and people have done us good. 


The opposite of gratitude is being ungrateful. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says: But mark this: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”


Appreciation is to put value on what has been done for us by God or people. We need to be thankful people—full of thanks. Does thankfulness mark my life? If someone was to follow me around for a day or two, would they notice thankfulness in my life?


The opposite of thankfulness is entitlement. When we feel entitlement, we feel we have the right to something. Entitlement does not value the good done to us or for us. Dissatisfaction is the result of feeling we deserve more. The result of not being thankful can be: sourness, grumbling, complaining, self-pity, jealousy, a critical spirit, fear, anxiety, and worry. 


2.   Why should we be thankful? 


a. Jesus was thankful. He had less than most of us have. He didn’t have many of the things we associate thankfulness with, and yet he was thankful.    


b. The Scriptures teach it. Philippians 4:6 says: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.


c. It’s for our own good—emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socially. Thankful people are happier people. Thankful people are healthier people. It would be difficult to be a triumphant and victorious Christian and not be thankful. We like to be around people who have a spirit of thankfulness rather than a spirit of complaining. We tend to distance ourselves from complainers. 


The great theologian, William Law, said, “The greatest saint in the world is not he who prays the most, or fasts the most, not he who gives the most, or has the highest position in life, and not one who is the strongest on justice. The greatest saint is he who is the most thankful to God, who has a heart always ready to praise God. This is the perfection of all the other character qualities. Joy in God and thankfulness to God are the highest perfection you will find in the holy life—the life of a Christian.”


3.   What are the results of being unthankful? 


a. We deny God’s grace. Grace teaches us that we get everything from God freely. Everything we have comes from God. We didn’t earn it or deserve it; we simply received it. Psalm 103:10-11 says: [God] does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. Anything we get is more than we deserve. It’s been said, “Every pain-free step is a gift of God’s grace.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “Every step is a gift of God’s grace.”


b. We become self-sufficient and have no place for God.


c. We become complainers, gripers, bellyachers, whiners. When we do that, we don’t reflect the beauty of God; we reflect the ugliness of human sinfulness and depravity. We give ourselves the glory instead of giving God the glory. 


4.   What causes us to be unthankful? 


a. Our human nature. Jeremiah 17:9 says: The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?We are selfish. We don’t have to teach our children to say, “Mine!” It takes a work of God’s power to bring about change. 


b. We haven’t been trained. Our parents and the culture around us might not have modeled a spirit of thankfulness for us. We may have been told to be thankful, but we didn’t see thankfulness being lived out around us.


5.   What do we do to build thankfulness?


a. We deal with the sin of being unthankful. We deal with it as we do other sins: confession, repentance, contrition (sorrow for what we have done), renunciation.


b. We make a list of things we are thankful for:


     1.) Common things—things everyone can give thanks for


     2.) Personal things—spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, vocational, material


     3.) Special gifts of grace—predestination, election, calling


     4.) God’s deeds for mankind—see Psalm 107


     5.) Universal gifts—creation, revelation, incarnation


c. Write notes of thanks


d. Look for good in people and thank God for that good


e. Study Scriptures concerning grace.


Thankfulness should be like incense—constantly rising to God like a sweet aroma. 



Verse Completion. . . than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool. Proverbs 17:10 (NLT)


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