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We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

Pastor Paul's Blog

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 9, 2020

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."
For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?

You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

As you know, I love teaching Disciple Bible Study. I have taught it over 25 times and love the journey of walking through the scriptures together. It seems that there is a moment in every Disciple class that I have taught that the class is confronted with the question, “Can it be this simple? Is the core of the truth of the Bible able to be summarized in the simple statement: love one another.”

For some, it takes longer to get there. Some want to debate and postulate and they struggle with the simplicity of that statement. Others arrive at this understanding much earlier, even in the Old Testament. But by the time we get to this passage that we study as part of John’s Gospel, it starts to make sense. Jesus says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” To drive home the point on this “Maundy Thursday”, Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around himself, and washes the feet of his disciples. It is love shown in such a beautiful way. The Master becomes the servant. God shows humility and takes on the lowly role of foot-washer, a role generally reserved the lowest servant. He does this self-giving act out of love for his friends, and then challenges us to do the same for one another.

We come to learn that if we could learn to love like Jesus, selflessly loving and serving one another, we would indeed by disciples of Jesus. All the rest would follow. Is it that simple? I think it is!

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 8, 2020

Mark 12:18-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Question about the Resurrection

18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.

24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

I want to revisit a passage that we had last week. This time I want to focus on part of the last couple of verses.

He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. . .”

If you live long enough, you are going to have people in your life, that you love, die. There have been many for me. They include my grandparents (John and Louise Presley and William H. Thompson, Sr. and Lizzie Lou Thompson), my step-father (Thomas W. Roberts, Jr.), two Fathers-in-law (Andrew J. Duncan and John Paul Moore), many Aunts and Uncles, friends, and a wife (Susan Glasgow Duncan Thompson). The tendency is to talk about them in the past tense. When they are remembered we tend to say, “they were.” They still are.

God is not God of the dead, but of the living. Jesus is talking to the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection, and teaches them about who God is and how God lives. In the story of the burning bush, Jesus says, God tells Moses that he is the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He does not refer to them as if they were “past”, but present. In other words, to God, and to Jesus, they aren’t dead. They are very much alive.

I miss my family members, and my friends who have died. I wish so much that they were physically present, but they aren’t. But it doesn’t mean that they are gone. They are very much alive. In the presence of God and in a way that I can only imagine, they are fully experiencing the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not God of the dead, but of the living. To believe in what God has done in Jesus Christ is to believe that God can take a dead body and breathe everlasting life into it, even as he once breathed life into the first man, Adam. He, still, is the God of the living.

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 7, 2020

John 12:20-36 (New Revised Standard Version, NRSV)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.
They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

I have to tell you, the word “glory” or “glorify” is hard to define. And, the word seems to change meaning over time. In the Old Testament, God can reveal his “glory” through manna in the wilderness, by giving the Law on the Mount Sinai. But here, in the New Testament, Jesus glorifies the Father by accepting the coming crucifixion on the cross, rather than rejecting it.

Among the varied meanings of “glory” is to honor, exalt, to reveal attributes. Jesus is going to glorify God by revealing the attributes of God and honoring and exalting him for being the God who comes to die for the brokenness of the world. The glory of the Father and of the Son is that they agree and fulfill the purpose for which Jesus came.

Jesus uses the analogy of a seed. When he “dies” and is planted in the earth, he is raised to produce more than a single seed (one body), but becomes much fruit by producing a group of believers and followers who become the body of Christ and spread that seed of faith throughout the world. The only problem is that there has to be a death, a burial, for the seed to then grow and produce the fruit.

If we want to honor, exalt God, then we have to die to ourselves, be re-born for the purposes of God and produce the fruit of faithfulness, mercy and love. The disciples of Jesus’ day had a hard time understanding. The light promises to dawn and claim us as children of God.

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 6, 2020

Matthew 21:12-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
    but you are making it a den of robbers.”

If you want to make people mad, mess with their money. Tax them more. Charge them fees. Un-employ them and leave them wondering how they are going to feed their families. Upend their way of life. It will get you killed.

As Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem we begin the Biblical accounts of the events that lead to Jesus’ death. On a high note, he enters to the shouts of “Hosanna!” as he descends from the Mount of Olives into the Holy City. Very soon, the mood turns dark and threatening as Jesus enters the Temple mount, sees the economic system that has emerged as Temple authorities use the trappings of religion to make money at the expense of the people. They are charged exorbitant fees for the animals to be used in the sacrifice, and are charged extra for the exchange of money from Roman money to “acceptable” currency. Jesus decries this system and angrily turns over the tables of the money-changers, upsetting their economic system and making them exceedingly angry. So, they lead the plot to have him killed.

I confess, that in the church today, I struggle with the whole financial system we have in place. I am compensated well for the work that I do on behalf of the institution called church. We have a beautiful church building and a rather large budget. I feel highly responsible for all the facets of the church’s ministry, including the finances, and I want to be faithful to God in all of them. I sometimes wonder what Jesus would say if he walked into the “Temple” called Huntersville UMC. Would he be happy, or would he start turning some things over?

In general, I am confident that Jesus would look at the marvelous ministry we have as a church and would be pleased. We can’t, however, lose focus on our primary purpose, and that is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through worship, feeding the hungry, caring for the neglected, and loving the people God gives us to love. We won’t be the den of robbers, but will be the house of prayer for all people to know the love of God in Christ Jesus. It’s His house. Let’s keep it clean.

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 5, 2020

"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
 
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." (Matthew 21:10-11)
 
What kind of King establishes authority as a baby?
What kind of King claims a throne on a donkey?
What kind of King refuses to assemble an army?
What kind of King rejects weaponry & war?
What kind of King dismisses political ambition?
What kind of King sacrifices for His subjects?
What kind of King loves unto death?
 
a King of LOVE, not of LAW
 
A different kind of King.
 
THAT'S MY KING (video) - lyrics by Dr. S.M. Lockridge

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 4, 2020

There were dozens of prophets recorded in Scripture; Samuel, Nathan, Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Gad, Elisha, Jonah, Joel, Amos and others.
 
In order to be considered a true prophet of God, there was ONE main criteria that ultimately determined whether your claim was legitimate or not.  It was simply this:
 
Did your prophesy come true?
 
That alone served as the primary standard as to whether your prophet status was legitimate or whether you were to be considered a fraud… a false prophet. There was no room for error.  If you claimed to speak for God and claimed to have divine knowledge about a future event, your entire “ministry” was judged on your ability to produce an accurate result.  Every time.
 
They were God’s mouthpiece.  If God said it, they were to repeat it… regardless of message.  
 
The writer of Hebrews sheds light on where we receive our revelation of God today:
 
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors 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 also He made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1)
 
The disciple John reminds us:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:1-2, 14)
 
Jesus said (in John 10:14, 27):
“I am the good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me…
My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.”
 
God’s Word is the primary way we can hear God’s voice today.
While Pastors, Preachers and Bible study leaders are wonderful assets to help communicate and explain God’s Word, nothing should replace our face being in His book. While God certainly speaks to us through the “still small voice” of prayer, through godly counsel and even via our circumstances, these are not to be substitutes to going to His Word on our own. 
 
And why is our own personal Bible study so important?  Why does it matter that we read His Word for ourselves and learn it more fully?  
 
Because there are others out there, in your sphere of influence, who do not know the Good Shepherd and have never heard of the beauty of His voice. They may never come to church, watch a live stream or listen to a podcast. How do we reach them?
 
The Apostle Paul asks these probing questions:
 
"How, then, can they (your family, friends, coworkers, neighbors) call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14)
 
Right now, we are sequestered to our homes. But there is coming a day, in the next month or two, where we will be back to work, back to school, back to our normal lives and when we get there, might God have a message to give to our loved ones, through us?
 
It has been said that there are 5 gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and you. Some people may never read the first four.  
 
Read the Word.
Live the Word.
Share the Word.
Repeat.

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 3, 2020

Philippians 1:21-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Do you remember this prayer? Was it taught to you as a child?

A later version printed in The New England Primer goes:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep;
If I should die before I 'wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take.

 They call this a “children’s prayer”, but it’s serious business. Think about the request: if I die in my sleep, I’m trusting God will take my soul to heaven. What a thing to have children think about before they go to sleep!

Are you afraid to die? Let’s be honest. Many, many people have said to me, “I’m not afraid to die.” Do I believe them? I’ve said the same thing myself. I want to be assured that, as a person of faith, when the day comes and I draw my last breath on this earth, I want to be with the Lord in heaven forever. But, I’m in no hurry to die. I love the old saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there.”

The Apostle Paul is talking about death in this passage. He is torn. On the one hand, he’s ready to die and go to heaven and be with Jesus. On the other hand, he’s not sure that his work on earth is done. He loves these people of Philippi and wants to see them and watch them grow in their faith and in service to the Lord Jesus. So, Paul comes to the conclusion that he’s not sure what he prefers. He says either way, it’s going to be okay.

I’d like to think that’s where I am. I’d like to think that if I die, from whatever cause, I’ll take one last breath here and my next in the Kingdom of God. Until then, I’ve got things I want to do here. I want to love my wife, my parents, my children and grandchildren, my friends, my church family, my neighbors, love everybody I can. I want to serve the Lord faithfully and fruitfully. If I should die. . . Lord, I’m yours, and you are mine.

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 2, 2020

Philippians 1:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Salutation

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

My Mom compliments people a lot. Random strangers, waiters/waitresses, people who help her at the Doctor’s office, she picks out something about them and compliments them. It can be their hair, their eyes, their clothes, or just their smile, it doesn’t really matter. She compliments them and their face lights up, their countenance changes, and the conversation begins. They usually want to discuss the compliment for a moment, and they often say, “you made my day.”

Of all the letters of Paul, and maybe out of all the books of the Bible, the letter of Paul to the Philippians is the most sweet and tender. Paul is effusive with love and compliments for the congregation at Philippi. He is warm and gracious, recognizing their love for him and basking in the way they have treated him. It is clear that there is a mutuality in the relationship, and Paul celebrates this relationship.

I wonder if we could learn something from my Mom and this letter? What would it be for us to find the next opportunity to compliment someone, not in a false way, but to find something about another person that we could recognize and compliment. We all like to hear someone give us a true compliment, and it feels good to give them. Would you be open to trying this in a healthy way today? You might find a new friendship emerges! It would be in keeping with God’s Word!

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 1, 2020

Matthew 22:23-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
The Question about the Resurrection
23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”
 
29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.   
 
(For a helpful study of this passage: http://www.crivoice.org/biblestudy/bbmatt17.html)
 
The word is anthropomorphism. It is what we are so fond of doing with God. It means that we have the tendency to take human qualities, characteristics, understandings, and cast them on God and the things of God. It is why we call God “Father”, meaning we take our human expectations of fathers and we project them onto God as his divine qualities. We want God to be strong, a protector, a provider, like a father. Now, it is true that the Bible uses this language in the inspired Word that God gave us, but such usage has its limitations. God is bigger than our human comprehension.
 
In this passage for today, the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus by asking him a ridiculous question about marriage in the Jewish tradition. It is based on the idea of levirate marriage, explained in the link above. They want to trap Jesus into a question by taking it to an absurd place.
 
The question often is asked, and the answer assumed, that we will be “married” in heaven, like we are on earth. We assume that the parts of this life we like will be a part of the life we want to live in heaven. That’s why there are so many golf jokes and the like. The old joke goes something like this, “Is there golf in heaven? Well, there’s good news and bad news. Yes, there’s golf in heaven, but the bad news is that you have a tee time next Tuesday.”
 
In this passage, Jesus seems to answer, negatively, the question about marriage in heaven. And then he points out that death is not an end, but a beginning of a new and different way of being. God is the God of the living, not the dead. God is bigger than our human understanding, and the life that is to come will not be bound by our human understanding of how we think it is, or how it should be. We will be with God, and that will be enough.

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 31, 2020

Isaiah 58:9b–14 (NRSV)
 
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places, 
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, 
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
 
John Wesley, the founder of the movement called Methodism, called people to a “holiness of heart and life.” I understand that to mean that not only were we called to a holiness that manifested itself in the personal devotions, such as prayer, fasting, giving to God and his church, and a refraining from vices, but also contained a sense that how we treated each other, especially the poor and the disenfranchised, was fundamental to the faith. It was not an either/or, it was a both/and. Live a faithful life in private and public affairs.
 
This passage from Isaiah is a perfect example of what that means. In this passage, the prophet is exhorting the people to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The call is to be kind in our words, not to speak evil, but to be people of peace. It also calls us to offer food to the hungry, to help the afflicted. This “blend” of personal and social holiness then comes with promises of fullness, light and blessing.
 
How are you doing with these expressions of the faith? Are you more likely to express your faith in prayer, daily devotions and giving to the church? Or, are you more likely to help someone who is in need, someone who is impoverished, or sick? The promise is for the person who remembers both that we will indeed be people of light, riding upon the heights and finding our connection to the ancient word of God. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 30, 2020

Romans 8:6-11 (NRSV)
 
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
 
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
 
I think we might be understating the power of the Holy Spirit. Out of the three persons of the Trinity, we tend to ignore the Holy Spirit. We do so at our peril. The Spirit has been present in creation from the beginning. In Genesis, we read, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word Ruach has several translations, among them “Spirit, breath and wind.” When Genesis says “a wind” from God swept over the waters, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The wind, the breath, the Spirit of God, was present in creation and is still creating today.
 
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he describes the Holy Spirit’s work in us and says the Spirit dwells in us. When we are in Christ Jesus then we have the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. What difference does that make?
 
Are you alive? Really, are you alive? Most of us think we are alive. We breathe, we move, we sleep, we eat, we do things that are indicative of being alive. But, are we really living? Are we so caught up in the day to day things of the flesh (the moving, the sleeping and eating, etc.), that we are dead to the Spirit? If the Spirit is alive in us then we are concerned less with the things of the flesh, and are more concerned with the things of the Spirit. And Paul in another part of Romans lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 
 
Ask yourself this question, as I am doing for myself. Is God alive in you, creating that fruit? If Christ is in you, then the fruit of the Spirit will be as well.

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 27, 2020

Revelation 11:15-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
The Seventh Trumpet
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
    and of his Messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.”
16 Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 singing,
“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
    who are and who were,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath has come,
    and the time for judging the dead,
for rewarding your servants, the prophets
    and saints and all who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
 
Whenever I read these verses, especially the verse “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever”, I can’t help but think of Handel’s Messiah. It is a masterpiece that never fails to move me, especially the Hallelujah chorus. I am attaching the link below that connects the verses to the beautiful rendition so you can hear.
 
The basic message of the Revelation is the assurance of the reign of Jesus that will come. “The kingdom of this world” is the reign of the evil one, or Satan, or whatever name he is known by in various passages of the Bible. He is known as the ruler of this world, but this kingdom of his shall become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Messiah, or Christ. We are painfully aware that the trials and tribulations of this world are due to the presence of evil and are a part of the brokenness of our human condition. But, the affirmation of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is that there will be an end to this evil reign, and when the 24 elders fall at his feet, and the heavens are opened, and all creation proclaims the greatness of the Christ, all will be revealed, and it will be good.
 
Hallelujah! Hold fast and keep singing that great chorus! Amen.
 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 29, 2020

Crowds.  
 
By definition, they’re big. 
They’re loud.  
They’re busy.  
They’re intrusive.   
Sometimes they’re even fun.
 
What they are not is conducive…
 
to hearing… 
 
God’s voice…  
 
…which is why we find Jesus, on several occasions, dismissing the crowd.  Matthew records one of those instances:
 
”Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd.” (Matthew 14:22)
 
If you want to hear God’s voice, you must dismiss the crowd.
 
Your crowd may not be people but iPhones.
 
Or the TV.
Or friends.
Or work.
Or the negative voices in your head.
 
And the primary reason why you must dismiss the crowd is not because the crowd is inherently bad but because of God’s most common style of communication;
 
He whispers.
 
Jesus knew, in order to hear His Father’s whisper, He had to get to a place where He would be alone.  
 
"After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)
 
Whispers encourage attention.
Whispers bring faces closer.
Whispers tend to communicate importance.
Whispers create focus.
Whispers carry weight.
Whispers echo on mountainsides.
Whispers penetrate lonely hearts.
 
As we practice social distancing and comply with stay at home orders, may we take the time necessary to dismiss the crowds, even technological ones, and lean in to God’s voice.
 
He’s whispering.
 
He’s always whispering.
 
Are we in a position physically and spiritually… to hear it?

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 26, 2020

Ezekiel 2:8-3:3 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
 
3 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
 
Ezekiel was a prophet of Israel. He writes his book of prophecy while in captivity in Babylon, having been exiled from his homeland during the siege of Israel by the Babylonians around the year 597 B.C. His prophetic ministry spans some 22 years, and in his book he predicts the coming fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., and a future restoration.
 
In our passage for today, Ezekiel is given a vision of a scroll, and is told to eat the scroll. He does, and the taste is as “sweet as honey”. The idea is that the scroll represents God’s Word, and Ezekiel is to ingest that Word as a sign of his complete dedication with it. The sweetness of the Word will be contrasted with the sourness of the message that he is to proclaim to the people. Much of Ezekiel’s proclamation is of destruction and coming judgment. Much later, the Word becomes one of reconciliation and a coming restoration. However, before the Word becomes sweet it is sour to the taste.
 
As a Preacher, it is difficult when you feel God has put a hard message in your mouth to proclaim. It is always so much sweeter to proclaim a message of love and grace and forgiveness. But, sometimes the Preacher is called to speak a Word on behalf of God that challenges, exhorts, and judges. Like Ezekiel, it can feel unpopular, unwelcome, and antagonizing to speak what God says speak. When you call out a culture for blatant worship of idols, when you ask for proper worship of God through service and stewardship, when you call people to repentance for sin, it can be perceived as a sour message. But, the Word of God is sweet to the taste and, in the end, the Word of Life. I believe my calling is to speak it, even when I must speak it into my own life first. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 28, 2020

At a recent trip to the dentist, I found myself sitting in the chair with an increasingly sharp pain in my side.  When I entered the office, I felt fine.  Now, some 20 minutes later, the pain in my side was so great that it was all I was thinking about.    
 
As the dental assistant was doing her work, I kept trying to figure out why my side was hurting.  Then the experienced assistant said something to me that I haven’t been told in years.  In fact, her one-word encouragement is not something I generally need to be reminded to do.  I’ve been doing it, subconsciously, since the day I was born.  Conservatively, it is something I do about 23,000 times a day.  Literally.
 
She said, “Breathe”.
 
Why is she telling me to breathe, I thought?  
 
Ohhhhhh!  
 
Revelation hit me and I was now suddenly understanding her suggestion.  
 
I actually wasn’t breathing! 
 
Unbeknownst to me, I was holding my breath during most of this procedure!  In fact, my body was braced for pain and I had stopped breathing (regularly) in anticipation of it.  As a result, the lack of oxygen and tense muscles around my lungs created a sharp pain in my side… something that was cured rather quickly by… breathing.  
 
In John 16, we find the disciples sitting in the spiritual dental chair, braced for impact.  Jesus rightly observes that they are “filled with grief” (16:6).  It’s no wonder why.  
 
A few moments prior (John 15), Jesus shares the following with them:
  • The world is going to hate you (15:19)
  • The world is going to persecute you (15:20)
  • You will be put out of the synagogue (16:1)
  • They will kill you (16:2)
  • I am leaving you (16:5, 7, 10, 16)
  • You will be scattered, each to your own home (16:31)
They had just enjoyed three, uninterrupted years with their Master and Friend and now, in a few short minutes, their world was being turned upside down.  They stopped breathing as fear crept in to their reality.  
 
If we’re honest, we can relate.  It doesn’t take our minds very long to anticipate potentially painful scenarios in our day:
  • Will my driving teenage son make it home safely?
  •  Will my college-age daughter make good choices?
  • Am I going to keep my job in this unstable economy?
  • Is my loved one going to catch the coronavirus?
  • Am I going to commit a homocide while being quarantined with my family?
Jesus understands our fears and speaks to them, just like the dental assistant spoke to mine.
 
“Breathe.  I got this.”
 
In His own words to the disciples,
 
 “I have told you these things, so that in ME (capitalization mine) you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
 
Rest in that truth, dear friend.
 
God’s already ahead of us and has provided PEACE in HIM, in spite of the troubles we encounter.  
 
Breathe and trust Him. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 25, 2020

 

Isaiah 60:17-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
17 Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
    instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
    instead of stones, iron.
I will appoint Peace as your overseer
    and Righteousness as your taskmaster.
18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
    devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
    and your gates Praise.
God the Glory of Zion
19 The sun shall no longer be
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
    or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever.
They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands,
    so that I might be glorified.
22 The least of them shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will accomplish it quickly.
 
Although there is no firm date for the years of Abraham in the Bible, it is likely that Abraham lived as much as 2000 years before Christ. It was during the time of Abraham that God made a covenant, a promise, to Abraham and his descendants. A part of the promise was that the land that Abraham was given would be his ancestors land FOREVER. There were many, many threats to the promise. Each time the promise was threatened, God found a way to keep the promise intact.
 
One of those times in which the promise was in greatest peril was during the time called the Exile. These were the years when Israel was raided by foreign enemies, drug away into exile in different countries, and all but lost hope. The passage we read for today is the prophet Isaiah reminding the people that are returning from exile that God will continue to bring them back, and bless them with light, and joy and peace and salvation from their enemies.  Though the days had been bleak, and 1400 years after the promise, it was all on-going.
 
But God does not fail in keeping his promises. The land is still Israel’s today, though there have been tremendous challenges and times of great peril.
 
I remember this today because this passage reminds us of God’s promises of restoration. As we go through our own crisis and we struggle to trust in the presence of God in the midst of this virus, we should remember that God’s promises are eternal. He will not leave us nor forsake us. Though we will struggle to see God’s work in the middle of this crisis, God is looking at the long haul and is doing things we cannot comprehend, yet. It takes a long time, sometimes, to comprehend what God is doing.