Say Yes

Revelation 20-22Revelation_22-12

Saturday, July 22

The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with God and his children named Adam and Eve living in a perfect garden where his children have immediate access to the presence of God and can interact with God face to face.  The act of rebellion against God caused them to be separated from God.  They initiated this process by hiding from God and by their failed attempts to cover over their guilt and shame.  The consequence of their rebellion against God was that they were cut off from immediate fellowship with God, they were cut off from the garden which, along with all of the earth and the inhabitants of the earth including animals and humans fell under the curse of death.

Within God’s ruling of the consequences of sin and the resulting curse came a kernel of good news in Genesis 3:15.  One would come who was a “seed of the woman” meaning a child, a human child, who would ultimately defeat the serpent, which represents evil.  In the process of destroying the evil serpent, that human would also suffer a wound (a bruised heel).

The rest of the Bible is the story of how God’s plan to rescue the earth from the curse and restore  and redeem humanity that was cut off from God is fulfilled ultimately by Jesus Christ, the human being, he was a seed of the woman, who was also the perfect and sinless son of God.  In going to the cross and dying for the sins of all humanity, and being raised up by God to everlasting life, Jesus defeated the serpent.

Revelation 20-22 provides a vision of the ultimate victory of how this is ultimately realized.  The serpent/dragon/devil/satan(adversary) is permitted to influence the world only so long, and then it will finally meet it’s end.   Evil will be defeated by Jesus Christ.  Christ will return, the dead will be raised, there will be a final judgment based upon what we have done.  Some will be resurrected to everlasting life with God on a renewed earth in the city of New Jerusalem.  Some will be judged and condemned by God and cast into the lake of fire, which the Bible calls the second death.  (Note that it does not teach that they will be tortured for eternity, but that they will die a second and final time in a type of mass cremation).  Death has to be destroyed.  Those who reject God’s love and gracious gift of salvation will not have it forced upon.  God allows us the freedom to accept his love and the offer of salvation, but he also gives us the freedom to reject it.  Just as a bride must consent to marrying the groom in order for a marriage to be valid, we, God’s people must consent to God’s love before our covenant relationship will be valid.

For those who reject God’s love, they will finally and mercifully be brought to everlasting destruction.  Those who accept God’s love through Christ, will be granted everlasting life.  The Bible ends with the reversals of Genesis 2-3.  God will again make his presence here upon the earth.  The image John gives in Revelation is of a New Jerusalem coming down from God to take up occupancy on the earth.  This new Jerusalem, interesting, is built on the same scale as the Temple in Jerusalem was… only so much larger.  The new temple occupies a territory that rivals the ancient Roman empire.

For Christians living in the first century suffering under Roman oppression, this must have given them hope.  Rome/ or Babylon or whatever earthly power that was anti-God would be brought to an end, and God’s Kingdom, God’s government would cover all the earth, with Jerusalem acting as a giant temple where God and his people would dwell for all eternity.  Within the temple, emanating from the throne of God is a river of life surrounded by the tree of life.  The tree of life was the very reason why Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, so that they would not partake of the tree of life/immortality in their sinful and broken condition.  Sin had to be defeated once and for all before immortality could be enjoyed.  But now, in Revelation, we are free to partake of the tree of life, we are free to embrace immortality, and we will live forever with God in His Kingdom on this renewed earth.  We have, in a sense, come full circle, we are back home with God’s presence in the new Eden, and we are forever blessed.  Even those who have suffered martyrdom for their faith, will enjoy the benefits and blessings of the New Jerusalem the New Eden and the New Earth.

If you’ve never said yes to God’s love, I don’t want you to miss out on this greatest of all blessings.  Say yes to God, you can do it right now.  And then solidify that “Yes” by entering into a covenant relationship with God through Baptism.  And then live as a child of God and share this good news with as many as you can, until the day all is fulfilled and Christ returns, or the day that you draw your last breath.

-Jeff Fletcher

(https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Revelation-22-12_Inspirational_Image/)

 

Victorious God

Revelation 8-12

1023-REV011015ENGKJV08000480ISP02066256000

Wednesday July 19

Seven is the number of completion, of fulfillment.  The number seven appears repeatedly in Revelation:  seven Churches, seven seals…. and now seven trumpets.  A trumpet is blown to get people’s attention- something important is about to be announced.  The seven trumpets here announce the judgment of God upon the earth.  God is about to bring this evil age to a close to make way for the age to come, when the Kingdom of God replaces fully the kingdoms of this world.
Each of the seven trumpets are blown by an angel of God followed by some great disaster.  There is hail, fire, blood, large burning rocks falling from heaven (a meteor or asteroid).  Then stars fall from heaven, the sky becomes filled with darkness, more heavenly bodies fall to earth opening deep pits in the earth which release demonic creatures.  There are plagues and wars and all manner of destruction heaped upon the earth.  Here it’s important to remember that much of this is symbolic language.  The point is that there will be calamities which bring about destruction on the earth, some are ecological, some are interstellar, and some are man made.  This Summer there’s a t.v. show on called Salvation.  The premise of the show is that NEO object is heading toward earth and is likely to cause massive death or even total extinction.  In real life, under Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming there is a super volcano, which, if it erupts, would place nearly all of the continental US under a cloud of darkness that would result in massive famine.  Of course, we hear regularly dire predictions about global warming, rising sea levels, the melting of the Arctic permafrost etc…  And don’t forget the expanding nuclear arsenals of places like North Korea and Iran.  There are any number of ways that global destruction could occur.  This is a part of our human consciousness… and it was a part of human consciousness in the first century as well.  There has always been the understanding that there is much that is outside the limits of human control: drought and famine, earthquakes and fire from heaven.  These events were usually linked to belief that whatever gods that community worshipped were angry.  Destruction was linked to judgment, which was linked to human sin.  The normal response was to bring sacrifices to the gods and a promise to stop doing bad things.
In this section of Revelation, we see that the one true God is behind these disasters, but there is no willingness of the people to repent. In Rev. 9:20-21 the people refuse to repent of their idolatry, of their murder, of their sexual immorality.  The people will not link the calamities that befall them and the earth with their own bad actions that violate God’s word.
Revelation 12 gives another picture. It’s an overview of the history of the earth and it shows the cosmic dimension of the battle that’s taking place.  There is a spiritual warfare. Behind it all is this picture of evil described as the dragon, or the ancient serpent, or the devil or Satan.  Evil is making war on God’s people.  Yet, evil will be brought down and God’s people who refuse to submit to evil will be victorious.  Even though they may be killed by evil, yet will they ultimately be victorious.
Remember, when John received this vision, Christians were suffering at the hands of the powerful evil empire of Rome.  It seemed like a powerful or insurmountable monster that was able to impose his will on God’s people.  Imagine how hard it would have been to stay faithful to Jesus Christ during such a difficult time.  Yet here is a message of hope, a message of victory.  Evil and the human faces of evil will not win.  God has far more power available to him than evil does.  Those whose hearts are turned against God and refuse to repent will not be swayed by these displays of judgment and power, but those who are faithful to Jesus Christ and remain faithful, even to the point of death, will emerge victorious.
There are always events that happen in our lives that tempt us to doubt God or to turn away from Him.  These apocalyptic texts in Revelation serve as a vivid reminder that, no matter how bad things may get in the world, even for believers in God, God will be victorious.  Let us stay faithful and keep trusting God and our faith will not be disappointed.

-Jeff Fletcher

Working On The Weaknesses

Romans 11-13

romans13

Friday June 16

 

When I was younger, I used to forget commitments that I had made and assignments that were due.  It was the worst feeling to fall short!  And then I would be tempted to lie to get out of the consequences of my lack of planning and that just added to my problems!  I also used to be messy and would spend lots of time looking for things.  Where did I put my keys?  I know they are somewhere!  Where is my favorite shirt?  Did I leave it under a pile of clothes?  Hours were lost just looking for things because I was not organized.  Have you ever experienced this?

 

Romans 13:10-14

10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.¶

11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.

12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

 

In verse 14, it says make no provision for the flesh.  At some point in my life, I recognized that I was forgetful and messy.  They were weaknesses of mine and I decided to do something about it.  I started writing myself notes, keeping a planner, and using the calendar on my phone to remind me of all my appointments and commitments.  I started to organize my things and find homes for all the various items in the house.  That way, I could put each item in its home and I would know where to find it when I needed it.  Making these changes had a huge impact on my daily life!  I took stock of my weaknesses and came up with a plan to strengthen those areas in my life and it worked!  Now, I rarely forget what I need to do and I spend way less time trying to find things!

 

I vividly remember a beaded butterfly necklace that I had and loved.  I cherished this necklace and wore it often.  My friend Rita also loved it and told me so.  I felt in my heart that I should give her the necklace but my flesh wanted to hold on tight to it.  It was mine and I didn’t want to give it away! “I’ll never find another one like it,” I thought.  But then, I considered what God would want me to do.  He would want me to give with a pure heart.  So I did!  The funny thing is, Rita was delighted and overjoyed that I gave it to her but after a few weeks, she gave it back.  She said it didn’t suit her as much as it suited me.  God was so good!  He taught me a lesson that I was meek to receive.  I was not to hold on to physical possessions that would burn one day (Dr. Joe Martin did a sermon years ago that I still remember called “It’s All Going to Burn”) but He blessed me with the return of the necklace.

 

We should take stock of our spiritual life and strengthen it!  Where is your flesh weak?  What are the things that tempt you?  If you are tempted to be greedy, than make a conscious effort to give.  If you find that going to parties causes you to sin, then don’t go.  Don’t make room in your life for sin!  If you have friends that are a bad influence, change your circle of people!  Surround yourself with people that will make you better for God and help you to look more like our Lord Jesus Christ!  “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts!” Romans 13:14

 

Ruth Finnegan

 

(photo credit: http://www.knowing-jesus.com/romans-13-14/)

Defined by Love

John 12-13

john13_34-votdTuesday, May 30

How do you know who somebody is? Not just what his or her name is but who they are, on the inside? Well, they may tell you. When introducing myself at Pine Grove to visitors or guests, I always say “I’m Jake, I’m one of the pastors here.” That way people know a little something about me; namely, they know I am employed as a clergyman (whatever they may think I do.) If we talk about my hobbies, quickly board games, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and video games come up. Each one of these shape a person’s perspective of who I am. BUT, if someone could watch over my shoulder for a day, imagine what they would know about me? They would see how I treat my family in our home, they would know what I read and what I write, they would know all sorts of things. And in the end, if they were to make a decision on who is Jake, really, it would be wise of them to define me NOT by my words but by my actions. If I describe myself as a quiet-spoken, shy introvert, my actions would CRUSH that description.
Jesus also knows that we show who we are by our actions. That is why he leaves us with a powerful and difficult commandment in John 13:34-35. A new commandment I give to you: love one another. Is there really anything new about this commandment? Yes and no. Is it new that we are supposed to love others and care for them? No, because that is what the Old Testament Law (remember that?) is all about. Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a new thing that he made up, it comes out of the second half of Leviticus 19:18. But then how is this command new? It is new because Jesus points to a new example of this kind of love. We have to love each other as Christ loved us.
Why does he make us do this? Because it answers the question of who we are. When we tell someone who we are, that we are a follower of Christ, what do those outside the church normally think? Do they think close-minded, dogmatic “truth”-deniers? Do they think racist, sexist, homophobic bigots? Do they think arrogant, hypocritical jerks? There are some who may! There are many who would say something similar to Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This does not mean that Gandhi had the true picture of Christ, nor does it mean that everyone who critiques Christianity is right! There are many who would make the claims that “Christians are X” who don’t know why Christians believe what the believe. However, there is something wrong if many people know us for something more akin to hate, than to love? After all, Jesus tells us “By this ALL PEOPLE  will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christianity is a way of life that should be drenched, dripping, overflowing with love.
But what does this mean for us?
First, love the Christians you are around. If you are not part of a church, you should be. There are many who critique Christianity from INSIDE as well as out. But the fact of the matter is that we were never made to live this faith alone. We were always to have a community of committed disciples around us. Also, this may be very difficult. The church is a place where broken people gather. Of course we are hypocritical and faithless and falling apart. We are just like every other humans. The fact of the matter is that Christians admit to it, which makes us the only ones who aren’t hypocritical and faithless and falling apart. We are blind and because we know we are, we can see. (See Sunday’s devotion.)
Secondly, love the world. While the starting point for our love is of course the “one another” of other disciples, if we want to be like God and Christ (and we do want that) it means that our love has to be for “the world”. Just quote John 3:16. God loved the world, not just his Church, not just his sons and daughters, but the whole big messy of humanity. Love for this world is the defining characteristic of God, because “God is love.” (1 John 4, you’ll get there!) However, love can be tough to pin down. Surely love doesn’t mean accepting someone’s sin, because God doesn’t do that, but it does love the person. Love doesn’t mean allowing someone to remain in sin and call themselves a believer, but that we help them come to a better understanding of the harms of sin. It also means that we allow ourselves to be connected to and friends with those outside the church who need to hear the gospel message of Christ. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 for an interesting comment by Paul.)
This isn’t easy, but you can love others. However, it will only happen if you have experienced the love God has for you. God loves ugly, horrid, wretched sinners and CONGRATULATIONS! YOU QUALIFY! But seriously, it means that he does love you. The love of God, if you have truly experienced it, can’t help but flow out of you and into the people and the world around you. May people know the God you serve and the Messiah you follow by the love that you show. May those who don’t know Christ give praise and glory to God through your loving deeds. (1 Peter 2:12)
In Christ,
Jake Ballard

Justice vs. Mercy

Matthew 25-26

mercy vs justice

Saturday, May 6

Which is more important in God’s eyes, justice or mercy?  That might be a difficult question to answer, but let me give it a try.

First let’s talk about justice.  There are many examples of God’s justice in today’s reading.  In the parable of the ten virgins, those who were not ready for the return of Christ were told by Jesus that he did not know them.  They were receiving justice for the lives they lived.  In the parable of the talents, the man who did not use the talents that were given to him was sent to the place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Justice was on display again.  In Matthew 25:31-46, those that did not help the needy were sentenced to eternal punishment.  Justice served.  Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus said it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born.  That was a warning that justice was on its way.  There was no mercy shown in any of these instances, only justice.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is arrested and his death on the cross is imminent.  We know why Jesus needed to die – to pay the debt for our sins.  The wages of sin is death so we all deserve to die since we have all sinned.  But think about this for a minute.  Couldn’t there have been a different way to make it right?  Jesus even prayed that prayer three times.  He didn’t want to die and he was hoping there was a different way to handle this.  God is in charge of everything so certainly he could have come up with an alternative solution to this problem.  Maybe if we sincerely repented for our sins, God could have shown us mercy and wiped our slates clean without anyone having to die.  Or maybe if we showed Him that we loved Him he could have overlooked our sins.  There had to be a different way.  Why did someone have to die?  The reason someone had to die is because of justice.  God is such a just God that He could not ignore justice.  It is very clear to me that God believes justice must always occur.

So where does that leave mercy?  Let’s go back to the death of Jesus.  Jesus was God’s own son.  He was also without sin.  There has only been one person on this earth in the history of mankind that did not deserve death, and that was Jesus.  God watched his only son be tortured and killed on the cross for something he did not do.  I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to watch one of my children suffer and die for something they did not do.  Yet God allowed it to happen, even though He could have stepped in and rescued him at any time.  Why would He just watch and do nothing?  It was because of His immense love for each of us.  He let His own son die for our sins so that we would not have to.  I believe that is the greatest act of mercy that has ever taken place.

So the answer to justice vs. mercy is “both”.  God will make sure justice occurs 100% of the time and He is on record as committing the most merciful act in history.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit http://www.breslev.co.il/articles/breslev/rebbe_nachmans_wisdom/mercy_vs__justice.aspx?id=26842&language=english)

He’s Serious

Matthew 18-20

matt 18

Wednesday, May 3

I think most people think of Jesus as a mild-mannered, humble, loving person.  They believe he is full of mercy and mostly thinks kind thoughts about people.  I think all of these things are true about Jesus, but there is another side to Jesus that I think many overlook.  He can get really ticked off, especially when it comes to sin.  He hates sin!  In Matthew 18 alone he has this to say:

  • If anyone causes a child who believes in him to stumble, it would be better for them to have a heavy millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the sea.
  • If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, it is better to cut it off than to be cast into the eternal fire.
  • If your eye causes you to stumble, it is better to pluck it out.
  • If a brother sins, go and reprove him. If he doesn’t listen take one or two more with you to talk to him.  If he still doesn’t listen, tell the whole church.
  • He told a parable about a man who would not forgive a debt so the master was so angry that he handed him over to torturers until he would pay the debt. He then said his Father will do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother.

Millstones around necks to drown people, cutting off hands and feet, plucking out eyes, telling the whole church that someone refuses to stop sinning, and handing people over to torturers if they don’t forgive tells me one thing.  He’s serious!  He’s not messing around.  Sin really makes him upset.  So my advice to you is:  Don’t sin.

I chose to write devotions for the book of Matthew because I knew it would be easy to find something to write about.  Matthew is loaded with nuggets to help you in life, but that has become my challenge to narrow down what to write about.  I can’t pass up this little nugget in Matthew 19:9.  It is about a subject that there is much disagreement about, but I believe this verse should not be ignored.  Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  We can debate what is meant by immorality or if this applies to someone who doesn’t want a divorce, but it seems pretty clear to me that you shouldn’t divorce your spouse and get remarried, unless your spouse has committed immorality (likely sexual immorality).  I know some will say you can’t base the whole argument on a single verse and there is more to the story, but I would warn you that you better make sure this verse fits with your view on divorce and remarriage.

Another little nugget I want to mention has to do with children in the kingdom.  I have struggled to understand if children who are not baptized will be in the kingdom.  In fact, what happens to children who died at a young age, including those who were aborted?  What about the children who are young when Jesus returns?  Do they have a chance?  How will their salvation be decided?  I can’t say I have the answers to these questions, but Matthew 19:14 gives me some hope for their eternal wellbeing.  Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  It sounds to me like there will be some children making it into the kingdom.

I won’t spend a lot of time on my last nugget (I’m pretty sure I already lost Mackenzie), but it is such a key concept that it needs to be mentioned.  The last will be first, and the first will be last.  Similarly, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.  I am not going to spend a lot of time explaining this to you because it is so simple to understand.  Ditch the selfishness.  Start living for God and others.  Be honest with yourself and ask yourself this question, “Who am I living for?”

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit: http://indulgy.com/post/znFZhGDqr2/matthew)

New Favorite Verse

Matthew 15-17

matthew-15-19-202

Tuesday, May 2

So…my daughter, Mackenzie, informed me that if my devotional is more than a few paragraphs long, it is likely she will not have the perseverance to read it all.  Therefore, I am going to need to jump right in to the part for my kids.  I always told my children that one of my favorite verses was Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  But now looking at that verse a little more closely, I don’t think it has the same impact as the new verse I found.  Matthew 15:4 says, “For God said, “Honor your father and mother, and, he who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.””  I think this could have been more influential in their younger years.

In Matthew 15, the Pharisees were annoying Jesus as usual.  They said to Jesus (in a high-pitched whiny complaining voice), “your disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.”  Jesus explained that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and gets pooped out (Rick’s Non-Standard Version).  Furthermore, the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile man (evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and slanders).  Therefore, you can try to control what comes out of your mouth, but a better idea is to “get your heart right” since that is where your words come from.  So how do you get your heart right?  The simple answer is to become unselfish.  I am convinced that every sin comes from selfishness.  We steal because we want something.  We lie to try to protect ourselves or get something we want.  We have sex outside of marriage because it feels good.  Go ahead; try to think of a sin that doesn’t have to do with our selfishness.

I am about to lose Mackenzie so I want to make this final point quickly.  Jesus summed this all up really well in Matthew 16:24-25.  He said that if you wish to come after him, you need to deny yourself and take up his cross and follow him.  He went on to say that whoever wishes to save their life shall lose it; but whoever loses their life for his sake shall find it.  You need to become unselfish if you want to save your life for an eternity.  You need to get your heart right and live your life for God and others, not yourself.  And to bring this full circle, if you get your heart right, good things will come out of your mouth about your parents and we won’t have to put you to death.

-Rick McClain