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

 

 

Do You Get It?

Malachi 1-4

Malachi

Wednesday, April 26

Have you ever tried reasoning with someone who just doesn’t get it? After reading Malachi that’s exactly how I felt. At this point the temple is built and the Israelites are settled back into their traditions and way of life. They are now waiting for the prophecies of their Messiah to be fulfilled. But with this wait and settling in came the return of sin, doubt and once again a disconnection and separation from God.

The Israelites began to sacrifice improper animals, they were withholding tithes, they were marrying outsiders, they weren’t obeying and honoring the covenant they had with God. With all this corruption going on they refused to see themselves as the problem. Instead they put the blame on God questioning his very love for them (Malachi 1:2) . Almost desperately God points the finger back at them, reminding them of his great love and his promise of a messiah. He urges them to take responsibility for their actions and remember to obey the covenant they have with Him.

I found it interesting that the last book of the Old Testament left me with a feeling of desperation. You felt the need for the Messiah and I almost couldn’t wait for him to come, then I realized: wait, Jesus did come! Today we have a new covenant with God, one that is fulfilled by grace through Jesus Christ.

 

I hope you get it.

 

-Elleigh Dylewski

 

God of Mercy. God of Justice.

Ezekiel 17-19

ezekiel

Thursday, March 23

God used the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar to enact His judgment against Israel.  He carried off King Jehoiachin and 10,000 nobles to Babylon and installed Zedekiah to act as his vice regent or king in Jerusalem.  The prophet Jeremiah warned Israel that this was God’s judgment and that the exiles would not return from Babylon until the people repented.  But the people didn’t listen and false prophets gave Israel false hope that Babylon might soon fall.  So Zedekiah broke his treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and made an alliance with Egypt.   This led to a revolt against Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt.   Eventually, Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and King Zedekiah and family were carried back to Babylon where they faced Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath.  Zedekiah had his eyes put out and his sons were executed.  Israel did not repent quickly nor easily, and because of her stubborn disobedience they continued to suffer.

In Ezekiel 17 God chose to use the allegory of an eagle plucking up the top of a cedar and then replanting it to depict His judgment against his people and to remind them of his power to build and His power to destroy.

In Ezekiel 18 God gives a very clear teaching to His people on the nature of sin, righteousness, judgement, repentance and forgiveness.  Each person is responsible for their own actions.  Parents are not held responsible by God for the sins of their children, and children are not held responsible by God for the sins of their parents.  Each person is responsible for their own behavior.  In the same way, you don’t get credit for your parents good behavior if you do bad.  Each person is responsible for their own sin and will be judged accordingly.

There is good news imbedded in Ezekiel 18.  God doesn’t take any pleasure in seeing wicked people die.  God wants to see people who do evil turn away from their evil.  God wants everyone to repent.  If an evil person repents, God will not punish them.  If a righteous person turns evil, they will be punished for their evil behavior.  God is a God of both mercy and justice.  He will punish unrepentant evildoers and he will forgive and restore those who repent of their evil.  This chapter is best summarized in the final three verses:  30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

 

In Ezekiel 19, there is a lament for the end of the Messianic dynasty that came from David.  Since the time of David, his descendants, beginning with Solomon reigned as Kings over Israel.  But that has been brought to an end.  There were no more descendants of David serving as the Lord’s anointed over Israel.  Of course, we have the benefit of hindsight.  We live on this side of the New Testament.  After several hundred years of NOT having a descendent of David as King of Israel, one was finally born in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus.  One day, Jesus will sit upon the throne and rule over not only Israel, but all the earth.  In the meantime, we have a choice, we can turn away from our sins and turn to God, or we can face the judgment.  Jesus Christ is God’s provision for our salvation.  We go to him to get a new heart and a new spirit.

-Jeff Fletcher