Sunday April 8, 2018 Gospel of Luke – Luke 5:27-39 “Eat, Drink and Be Merry”

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Luke 5:33-34
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

Many people saw the Puritans (incorrectly) as “people who suffer from an overwhelming dread that somewhere, sometime, somehow, someone may be enjoying himself.” That definition is incorrect because the Puritans had as their purpose “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we all have met someone who fits that incorrect definition —a religious person who only seems to be content when everyone else is miserable. These folks are like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Lutherans, who are suspicious of a place like Hawaii that doesn’t have harsh winters.

Why is it that there are so many “dill pickle” Christians around, who are more like the Pharisees than those who attended Levi’s reception? It is because Satan has warped our conception of the Christian life. Jesus’ disciples, unlike the disciples of the Pharisees and even of John the Baptist, feast, while the others fast. The real issue is not stated, but it is there: “Why are your disciples able to enjoy life, while we merely endure it?” Note the contrast in the attitude of the Pharisees with that of the “sinners.” The sinners are celebrating; the Pharisees are grumbling. The sinners are happy; the Pharisees are sad. The sinners are enjoying life; the Pharisees only endure it. The sinners are “grabbing for gusto,” the Pharisees are griping to Jesus.

There are times when fasting is appropriate. There are times when the most spiritually mature Christians will be sad, when they will grieve, when they won’t be marked by joy. But Jesus is the bridegroom and when He is with His people, then we should experience the joy of the wedding feast. The joy of the Christian life is being personally related to our loving Bridegroom! If you know the joy of a personal relationship with Him, there will be times when you fast. You will discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. You will obey His Word. But your motive will not be to earn right standing with Him or to impress others with your spirituality. Your motive will be the joy of knowing and pleasing your Bridegroom.

Joy, not sorrow, not sadness, should be the dominant characteristic of the Christian. The Christian life includes sorrow and suffering and sacrifice, but these are not the melody line of our life, or they should not be. These are the harmony line. Suffering and sacrifice are means, but they should not be the end. Joy is the goal, it is the climax, it is the reward of forgiveness and fellowship with God.

Sunday February 4, 2018 Gospel of Luke – “Can God Be Tempted?” Luke 4:1-4

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Luke 4:1-2
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.”

Have you ever wondered what the difference was between being tempted and being tested? The Bible speaks of both, but does that mean the two are interchangeable? Does it make a difference if Jesus was tempted by Satan or only tested in the Wilderness?

Temptation is, on the one hand, a solicitation to sin, to do that which is contrary to the will and the word of God. Temptation is an attempt to cause a person to sin. Satan’s efforts at temptation always fall into this category. But “temptation” when viewed from God’s point of view is a “test,” an opportunity for one to be proven righteous. In the case of Job, Satan sought to bring Job to the point of forsaking his faith, but God’s purpose was to deepen Job’s faith, as well as to demonstrate to Satan that Job’s love for God was not based upon the material blessings that God had bestowed upon him.

In the same way, Jesus was “tempted” in two senses in our text. From the vantage point of Satan’s intended purpose, our Lord was tempted. Satan wished to prompt the “Son of God” to act in disobedience to the Father, thus terminating His ability to fulfill His mission. From the viewpoint of God, this was a “test” of Jesus Christ, proving Him to be suited and qualified to fulfill His mission as the Son of God.

This temptation struck at the very heart of the gospel, for the Lord Jesus had come to the earth in obedience to the will of the Father, to die on the cross for sinners, so that they might be forgiven and have eternal life. Would Jesus save His own life, contrary to the will of His Father? Then He could not achieve eternal life for all men. Would Jesus act on His own behalf, distrusting and disobeying the Father? Then He would pursue the path of death, not life, for life requires obedience to God, even more than feeding the body. To have turned the stone into bread would have been to have turned from the path that led ultimately to the cross. The rejection by Jesus of Satan’s proposition meant that He was determined to accomplish the will of God, even unto death, which paradoxically, was the way to life, for Him and for all who are found in Him.

Death is not the end of life, rather death is the way to life. The death of Christ became the way in which men could have eternal life. His death meant that He suffered and paid the penalty for our sins. By believing in Christ we become identified with His death, burial, and resurrection, which is symbolized by baptism. But not only is death the way to life (dying in Christ to sin), it is for the Christian, the way of life. We are taught that we must daily “take up our cross,” we must die to self-will and self-interest. The way of life is death to self, that is the way of the cross.

Sunday – December 31, 2017 Gospel of Luke – “Psalms and Announcements” Luke 2:21-38

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Luke 2:27b-32
When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Whether we are young or we are old, everyone needs hope. Hope is not just for those who approach old age with questions about how their life has been spent and what to do with the days that remain, but also at all other points in life. We need hope to see there is more to life than the circumstances we find ourselves in, today or any day. A hope that is more than just whistling in the dark, a hope that is firm and secure in the heavens.

One of the blessings we receive along with the children God entrusts to us is hope. I can recall the day my daughter was born and the hope that I had for her future – all the things she would see and do in years ahead of her. And yet, the hope that comes with children is an uncertain hope at best. There is always the uncertainty of disease or death. What parent of a newborn has not gone in by the crib in the middle of the night and put his or her ear down close enough to make sure that the little one is breathing? If the child survives and grows into a young adult, there is the uncertainty of this evil world. Crime, child molesters, drunk drivers, the threat of terrorism or war, and economic instability make every parent worry about the kind of world our children and grandchildren will grow up in.

Given these uncertainties, when we meet an elderly person who is filled with hope, we need to sit up and take notice. Here is someone who could be pessimistic, cynical, filled with fears and anxieties. But he is brimming over with firm hope – hope in the salvation God will bring for all people. We had better listen, for there is much we can learn from someone who has the hope of the Lord in their life.

Simeon was such a man. When he held the infant Jesus in his arms in the temple courtyard, we see more than just an old man taking hope in any newborn. Rather, we see an old man who has put his hope in the promises of God. This was no ordinary newborn. He was the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. If Christ is your salvation, you can have hope no matter how difficult your circumstances. Whether you’re suffering from a deadly disease or grieving over the loss of a loved one or facing overwhelming trials of some other nature, you can have hope if you will trust in Jesus Christ as God’s salvation for you. He has won the victory over sin and death and hell. Those who hope in Him will not be disappointed.

Sunday – August 20, 2017 Genesis 48:1-22 “The View from the Graveyard”

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Genesis 48:21-22
Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. And I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow

God’s covenant of faithfulness is the theme that permeates Jacob’s testimony in this chapter. Seventeen years before he had complained to Pharaoh, “Few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (47:9). But now, Jacob has mellowed. As he takes a final look backward at his life, he remembers how God appeared to him at Bethel as he fled from his brother. Jacob had deceived his father and wronged his brother. God would have been just in finding someone else to use in accom­plishing His purpose. But He appeared to Jacob and affirmed the covenant promised to him as he fled from his brother to his uncle’s home in Paddan Aram.

Twenty years later, Jacob wasn’t much farther along. He had out-swindled his uncle Laban and headed back to Canaan. He had settled outside of the land without seeking God’s direction. Then his sons deceived and murdered a whole town because one young man there had raped their sister. But God appeared a second time to Jacob at Bethel and assured him that the promises were still good.

Even in Jacob’s great time of sorrow, when Rachel died, God’s comfort had been real. The pain of that loss was still with the old man as he reminisced here (48:7). But God had been with him. Then the hammer blow of Joseph’s loss had hit the grieving man. He had thought that he would never see his son again. He went through years of confusion, wondering how the loss of his one son who seemed to follow the Lord could fit in with the promises of God. But now, at the end of his journey, God had proved Himself faithful, as Jacob held in his arms not only Joseph, but Joseph’s two sons. And so as he blesses his grandsons, Jacob tells them how God has been his shepherd all his life to that day and how God will be with them (48:15, 21).

When others look at your life, are they inclined to say, “Your God is sure faithful, isn’t He”? Or, would they say, “Your God must not be very good, because you are always complaining about the treatment you receive”? Complainers tell others something untrue about God, namely that He isn’t faithful. People are skilled in reading between the lines of our lives. If we profess to know the Lord, but our lives are a constant complaint, they put it together and make a mental note that they don’t want anything to do with our God. We’ve got to tell them, by our words and our attitudes, that God is faithful, even through the hard times.

Sunday – July 2, 2017 Genesis 43:1-34 “Tears and Fears”

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Genesis 43:16-19
When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, “Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.” So the man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, “It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys.”

Joseph’s brothers provide us with an excellent illustration of salvation. In their current spiritual state they faced Joseph with the greatest fear. They perceived their only “salvation” to be in their “works” of returning the money they found in their sacks and in the pistachio nuts and other presents they brought from Canaan. The first was refused by the steward, and the second was ignored by Joseph. It was not their works that endeared these brothers to Joseph; it was their relationship to him. That is what they did not yet realize.

In the same way today sinful men dread the thought of standing before a righteous and holy God. The future must be faced with great fear. Frantically men and women seek to gain God’s favor and acceptance by their “pistachio nuts” of good works. Such things as trying to live by the Golden Rule or the Sermon on the Mount, joining the church, and being baptized, are unacceptable to God as a basis for salvation. What saves a man or a woman is a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.

When we stand before the throne of God, the only thing God will be interested in is our relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ. As our Lord Himself put it, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). This is the consistent message of the Bible: “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I John 5:11-12).

Have you come into a relationship with Jesus Christ? I urge you to acknowledge that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal wrath. Let your eternal destiny rest in Jesus Christ, Who died in your place and Who offers you His righteousness and eternity with Him. Realize that any work which you may do will do nothing to gain God’s favor; He is pleased only with the work which Christ has already done on the cross of Calvary.

Jacob was putting all his hopes for the future on his son Benjamin (42:38; 44:29-31). Without Jacob’s realizing it, God had purposed to save him and his sons through Joseph, who was rejected by his brothers, marked for death, and who was, so far as Jacob knew, dead. Later this son who “was no more” was elevated to the throne where he was able to save his brethren. Jacob’s hopes were placed on the wrong son. It was through Judah, who offered himself in place of Benjamin, and Joseph, who was rejected and then exalted, that Jacob and his sons were saved. Jacob would be saved God’s way or not at all. God had to systematically pull out all the props from under him before he was willing to accept things God’s way. How little has changed between the time of Jacob and today.

Sunday – June 25, 2017 Genesis 42:1-36 “The Proper Use of Power”

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Genesis 42:21-22
Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.

Have you ever heard of a berkutchi? A berkutchi is an Asian man who trains eagles for hunting. The capture, taming, training, and keeping of eagles is highly ritualized. Once captured, the eagle is hooded and placed in a cage with a perch that sways constantly so it cannot rest or sleep. For two or three days it is also deprived of food. During this time the berkutchi talks, sings, and chants to the eagle for hours on end. Finally, he begins to feed and stroke it. Slowly the weakened creature comes to rely on its master. When the berkutchi decides that their relationship has become strong enough, the training begins. Not all eagles can be trained, but those who take to life with a master display intense loyalty. While the training and breaking of the eagle may seem harsh, it is a picture of how over time God breaks our independent spirit to draw us close to Him.

It is important to see what God is doing. God uses broken things: broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, and broken bread to give strength. God is going to break Joseph’s brothers by awakening their sleeping consciences. For years, Jacob and the boys lived life without having to think about God. Life went on as normal. They got up, did their work, came home, and the next day started all over again. Their needs were met; life went on as it always had. But with this famine God gets their attention. It is easy to avoid God when we feel self-sufficient. It is easy to feel that you have no need of God’s touch when everything is running smoothly. These men were comfortable in their denial and their deceptions. As long as the status quo remained they would never change. So God provokes a crisis. This crisis would either harden them further or wake them up.

God could have simply washed His hands of these brothers. But that’s not what He did with the Israelites and that’s not what He does with you and me. God loves us too much to let us go without a fight. So, at times He exercises “tough love.” He brings a crisis into our life that forces us to address ultimate issues. It may be an unexpected diagnosis, a financial emergency, an overwhelming situation, or a family crisis. In these situations God is often seeking to awaken us out of our spiritual lethargy. God lovingly put Jacob and his family in the midst of a famine in order to draw them to Him.

Are you going through a tough time? Is life a struggle right now? Could it be that God is trying to get your attention? Could it be that He is trying to awaken you out of your spiritual slumber? Is it possible that God loves you so much and that He wants you to be His with such intensity that He will stop at nothing to turn your heart to Him?

Sunday – May 21, 2017 Genesis 39:1-33 “From the Penthouse to Prison”

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Genesis 39:1-3
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian.”

Each of us wants to succeed in life. But if we want true success, it’s crucial to work out a biblical definition of the term. Otherwise, you’ll be like the guy who climbed the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. You’ll waste your life pursuing the wrong goals and making wrong decisions. If our target is wrong, we will fail even if we hit it.

Our American culture defines success primarily in financial terms, throwing in, perhaps, the ideas of power, fame, and the elusive quality: “happiness.” As Christians, we can easily see the fallacy in defining success in those terms, and yet often we are influenced by our culture more than we care to admit. Many pastors succumb to the prevailing definition, thinking that if you pastor a large church, or gain national recognition through writing a book or speaking at important gatherings, you are successful. Christians reveal their skewed definition of success when they rush out to buy the latest story of some celebrity who has made a profession of faith, or when they parade famous athletes before the church as if they were spiritual authorities. So we need to bring into sharp focus the biblical answer to the question, “What is true success?”

Was Joseph more blessed by God or more successful when he was at the top of Potiphar’s household than when he was in the dungeon? They were just different phases of God’s training program in which He was preparing Joseph for the job He had for him under Pharaoh. Joseph was truly successful, whether he was in Potiphar’s house or in the prison, because God’s hand was on him. I believe that is the biblical definition of true success. True success is to have God’s blessing on your life. If you have God’s blessing, you have everything, even if you’re poor and unknown; if you lack God’s blessing, you ultimately will have nothing, even if you’re rich and famous now.

I want each of us to covet God’s blessing for yourself. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we all should say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). You can live a comfortable Christian life, serve in the church and succeed in worldly terms. But if you lack God’s blessing on your life, you’ve missed true success. True success is when it can be said of us, whether we are in Potiphar’s house or in prison: The Lord is with that man or woman. Being blessed by God, we then will be used as His channels of blessing for the nations through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday – April 23, 2017 Genesis 36:1-43 “A Successful Man Who Failed with God”

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Genesis 36:31
Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel.”

While Esau was out conquering the land of Edom, founding a nation, fathering kings, and making a great worldly success of himself, Jacob was quietly living in a land he didn’t even own, the land where his fathers had sojourned. While Esau’s descendants were mighty chieftains, famous in their day, Jacob’s descendants were down in Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. By Moses’ day (over 400 years later), Israel was a fledgling nation of slaves, recently escaped from Egypt, owning no land of their own. Edom was an established kingdom that had the power to refuse Israel passage over their land. But this tour through Genesis 36 shows us that God, not man, writes the final chapter of history. These men, successful by the world’s measure, passed off the scene and were soon forgotten as others clamored to take their place. Fame is a fleeting thing.

What really matters is recognition by God, not by this world. We live in a culture that worships fame. If an athlete, a musician, or an actor or actress becomes a Christian, we rush his life story into print and hustle him onto the TV talk shows. The guy may be a babe in Christ, who doesn’t know anything about the Bible, but we listen to his every word as if he’s a spiritual authority. But the recognition that counts will come soon, when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21, 23). In that day, real success and failure will be unveiled. Until that time, we should be careful to not make a big deal about earthly success or failure. Only God knows who is truly successful and who is not.

That’s why it is so important to ask yourself the question, “What am I living for?” What a shame to live your life like Esau, wondering, “What if …?” While we still live, we all have a choice: to join Jacob and his descendants in waiting patiently for God to fulfill His covenant promises to us, as we labor for His coming kingdom, or to look over at Esau, prospering in the world, and join him in the pursuit of secular success. If we succeed by worldly standards but fail with God, we have failed where it really matters. Whether we fail or succeed by worldly standards, if we succeed with God, we will have true and lasting success.

You are writing history. Every day you live, the choices you make, the things you say, and the actions you take are becoming a part of history. You are influencing the eternal destiny of others (one way or the other). How you conduct yourself in your marriage, with your children, in your work, and in the community is incredibly important! You are leaving a legacy for those who will follow in your steps. I urge you, please live your life with eternity in mind.

Resurrection Sunday – April 16, 2017 John 16:19-22 Celebrate the Risen Savior

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John 5:28-29
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

If anyone can speak with authority about life beyond the grave and God’s judgment, it is Jesus Christ. He claimed to be sent from God the Father and to be one in essence with the Father. Either He is God in human flesh, or else He is a first-class liar! Jesus reinforced this statement with many bold claims that would be blasphemous in the mouth of anyone other than God.

He claimed to do everything that He saw the Father doing (5:19)! He claimed that the Father showed the Son all that He is doing (5:20)! He claimed to have the power and authority to give life to whomever He wishes (5:21)! He claimed that the Father had given all authority to judge to the Son (5:22)! He claimed that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father (5:23). As if these claims were not stupendous enough, Jesus continued, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24). What mere man could make such claims? Even if Jesus were, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, the first and greatest of all created beings, He would have been blaspheming to make such claims to deity, if He were not fully God!

Maybe you have heard the expression, “going first class on the Titanic.” It describes those who foolishly devote themselves to seeking after pleasure in this life only. This world and all who live for it are headed for judgment. Going first class on a ship that is certain to go down is not wise! And so each of us needs to ask, “Is my hope of heaven based solely on the fact that God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for my sins, and that He raised Him from the dead? Because He has cleansed my heart through His mercy, do I now desire to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him?”

Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). Again, what an astounding claim! Jesus offers to give eternal life to those who seek it. The day is coming when you will be raised, either to life or to judgment. In light of who Jesus is, if I may speak plainly, you would be stupid to live for this life, but to neglect the free gift that will prepare you for the life to come.