Sunday, June 20, 2021

Our Father

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Father's Day, Sunday morning the 20th of June, 2021, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:  http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Jesus in the flesh was the begotten Son of God.  He called God “Father”.  And He told us – His followers – to call God “Father”, too, for we have been adopted by God into His family.

So every time Jesus told us what to do and how we should live, it was so that our words and deeds would be pleasing and acceptable to our heavenly Father.  Even when it came to the model He gave us for prayer.

Please listen and follow along to the instructions Jesus gave as recorded by the Apostle Matthew in the 6th chapter of his Gospel account, verses 1 through 14, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
--Matthew 6:1-14 (NKJV)
Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for adopting us into Your family so that we can know You as our Father, our heavenly Father.  In You we have a good Father, one we can know, one we can live with for eternity.  Thank You, God, for so great a gift, and all because we follow Your Son Jesus.  Please help us be worthy of being in Your family.  Help us follow Your word in our daily walk.  Help us remain faithful and true to You and Jesus.  And Father, please protect us from all of Satan’s attacks, and from those who so willingly do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these extraordinary times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Tell us of Your undying, all compassionate love, the true love of a father.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus, your Son, who suffered for us all.   Amen.


I think I've read this before, but it is well worth repeating.  Listen to how Paul Harvey once described what fathers are made of:

A father is a thing that is forced to endure childbirth without an anesthetic.

A father is a thing that growls when it feels good, and laughs very loud when it's scared half to death.

A father never feels entirely worthy of the worship in a child's eyes. He's never quite the hero his daughter thinks, never quite the man his son believes him to be... and this worries him, sometimes.  So he works too hard to try and smooth the rough places in the road for those of his own who will follow him.

A father is a thing that gets very angry when the first school grades aren't as good as he thinks they should be.  He scolds his son though he knows it's the teacher's fault.  Fathers are what give daughters away to other men who aren't nearly good enough so they can have grandchildren who are smarter than anybody's.

Fathers make bets with insurance companies about who'll live the longest.  Though they know the odds, they keep right on betting.  And one day they lose.

I don't know where fathers go when they die.  But I've an idea that after a good rest, wherever it is, he won't be happy unless there's work to do.  He won't just sit on a cloud and wait for the girl he's loved and the children she bore.  He'll be busy there, too, repairing the stairs, oiling the gates, improving the streets, smoothing the way.


My earthly father, my Dad, was very good with his hands.  He had little formal education, but he could make or repair almost anything.  He was always puttering around with things in the house and yard, and I can just imagine him in heaven, working on all the stuff there, getting things ready for me to come home.


Father’s Day – the one day set aside each year to honor our Dads, to make them feel special.  We should honor them every day, because God commands us to: “Honor thy father and thy mother”.

Sadly, not all of us have or had good fathers.  I think most fathers have good and bad aspects that influenced our lives.  My Dad gave me my inquisitive nature, to look at things and try to figure out how they work, how to fix them when they’re broken.  But he also gave me my irrational fear of snakes, all snakes.  And there are other sore points we won’t go into, but I loved my father and miss him a lot.

Not all of us knew our fathers.  Some of us, the only Dad we’ve ever known was not our biological father, but one who adopted us and loved us like their own.

This is what God has done for us, we who believe in and follow His Son Jesus.  No matter what kind of earthy father we have or had, whether we knew the man who gave us half of our DNA or not, God in heaven adopted us and loves us like His very own.


I try not to generalize, but most boys – and even some girls – who grow up with their father in their lives want to be just like them, at least in some way.  We use our fathers as examples, trying to do the same things they do.  And until we get to those rebellious teenage years, we try to do things that please them.  Especially on Father’s Day.

But this is a two-way street and fathers have a responsibility, too.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul tells us fathers in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 4…
4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
--Ephesians 6:4 (NKJV)

Too often, I’ve seen fathers who expect too much of their offspring.  They want their kids to be just like them, and if they’re not, they sometimes take their frustrations out on the children.  Rather than just loving them as they are, they provoke the kids to get better, even to the point of making their little ones angry, or sad.

All fathers need to heed the words that God spoke through Moses, as recorded for us in chapter 6 of the Book of Deuteronomy, verses 6 through 9…
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
--Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (NKJV)

We fathers must teach God’s word to our children.  We need to drill it into them, constantly remind them, any and every chance we get.  This is the most important job we will ever have, to teach our children about God, about Jesus, and all about their love for us.


Our Father God is speaking to us.  Do we stop long enough to hear and listen?  Whether we are fathers or mothers, whether we have or have ever had children of our own or adopted any, we, as followers of Jesus, have a responsibility to teach the world about Jesus, about God and His word.

Jesus told us what to do, how to act, what to say and when to say it.  He knows our heavenly Father better than us, so we should listen to what He tells us.  Love others and help them whenever and however much we can, but do it out of love and not to glorify ourselves or to look good to our fellow man.  Pray quietly, just as a nice little conversation between us and God, again not that others may think of us as being very pious and godly.  God knows what we need, but like any father, He wants us to spend time with Him, talking with Him, just  He and us alone together.  Be sure to thank Him for all He provides, and don’t be afraid to ask for what we need.  For He wants to know that we can see the difference between what we want and what we truly need.  And give Him all the glory, for He is God, the Creator of all there is.  And He is our Father, who loves us as His own.


Happy Father’s Day, God!  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for bringing us into Your family and loving us as Your own.  Thank You for providing for our needs, and for giving us so much more.  And thank You for hearing us when we come to You in prayer.  Please help us glorify You and obey You.  Sometimes, Father, we just get all wrapped up in the busyness of life that we don’t take the time to teach others Your word.  Please, Father, help us be more pleasing in Your sight.  Help us remain ever faithful and obedient to You.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, it is only because of You and the sacrifice You made on our behalf that we are able to know God as our Father.  You gave us the example of how to live.  You instructed us in what to do and say.  Thank You, Jesus, for teaching us God’s word and for never failing to love us.  Lord Jesus, we ask You to help us be more pleasing to our heavenly Father.  Strengthen our will to do what God wills us to do.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter each day.  And please help us as we try to show Your love in this world where hatred and distrust seem to abound.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Our Earthly Home

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning, the 13th of June, 2021, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:  http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Family, we’ve all heard the expression and we believers pretty much agree that “this earth is not our home”.  We were meant for heaven, our final destination is heaven.  Heaven is our true home, the home we all long for.

Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions…  I go to prepare a place for you.”  Our home, waiting in our heavenly Father’s house, was prepared for us by Jesus.  And some day, we believers will go home.  But for now, we must live here on earth, in earthly houses and homes.

Oh, and I’m not only referring to these structures of wood or steel or brick and mortar.  I’m also talking about these structures of flesh and bone.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, from chapter 4 verse 16 through chapter 5 verse 10, and I’ll be reading this from the English Standard Version of our Holy Bible…
4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened — not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
--2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 (ESV)
Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for adopting us into Your family and saving a place for us in Your beautiful home.  As we wander through this life, in a frail structure that wears out and falls apart and experiences all manner of pain and discomfort, we long for the new, indestructible, incorruptible body You have ready for us.  Thank You, Father, for loving us this much.  Please help us obey and serve You in all things.  Help us reach out the hand of love to others.  Help us remain faithful and true to You and to Your only begotten Son Jesus.  And Father, please protect us from all of Satan’s attacks, and from those who do his evil work.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these extraordinary times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Tell us of our home in heaven even as we serve from our earthly home.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus, your Son, who suffered for us all.   Amen.


Sometime long ago, an American tourist visited the Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim.  The visitor was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, with nothing else but a table and a bench.  This led the tourist to ask, "Rabbi, where is your furniture?"

"Where is yours?", replied the rabbi.

"Mine?" asked the puzzled American.  "But I'm a visitor here.  I'm only passing through."

"So am I," said Hofetz Chaim.


We have furniture in our homes so that we can be comfortable there.  Chairs to sit on, beds to sleep on, tables to dine on and pile up our stuff.  We find these things useful in our day to day lives.  So much so, that even when we travel, we expect to see them everywhere we go, we expect to have them provided for our use when we stop somewhere.  Even though we are only passing through.

Some sweet day, none of these will matter.  We’ll be made new with no more discomfort, no more need of things, no more aches and pains.  But for now, let’s just remember that we’re only visitors here, we’re only passing through.


I believe that the Apostle Paul reinforces this concept in our scripture reading.  He compares two distinct time periods each of us believers will experience:  our life now, and our eternal life yet to come.  And he does so in terms we should be able to easily understand: our houses, our homes.  Of course, it takes very little insight to realize he is referring to our bodies and our souls when he says that our outer self is wasting away while our inner self is renewing constantly.

I love that he used a tent to refer to our current body, our earthly home.  Most of us consider a tent to be a very temporary shelter, not even comparable to a real house.  This is how our current body compares to our eternal body that will be given to us, our eternal home crafted by God.  Right now we’re in a tent, just something to keep the rain off, something to keep us from being seen as naked, as Paul puts it.  But we long for something more, we groan just thinking about the home that awaits us, the home Jesus prepared for us.  That knowledge, that hope, that promise gives us the courage to stay in this tent one more day.


Did you notice that at the end of that passage, in chapter 5 verse 10, Paul actually gives us a word of warning?  We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.  All of us – good and bad, believers and non-believers.  We will all be judged and we will all receive what is due us for what we have done, or not done, while in this earthly home, this body.  Whether we’re done good or evil, we will be judged.

I think it would behoove us to do good, if we truly follow Jesus.  He did good, while in an earthly body.  He even fulfilled the Law of Moses, as handed down by God.  Listen as the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us of what Jesus did while on this earth, and what we should to in obedience to Him.  This comes from Hebrews chapter 13, verses 10 through 16…
10 We have an altar — the cross where Christ was sacrificed — where those who continue to seek salvation by obeying Jewish laws can never be helped. 11 Under the system of Jewish laws, the high priest brought the blood of the slain animals into the sanctuary as a sacrifice for sin, and then the bodies of the animals were burned outside the city. 12 That is why Jesus suffered and died outside the city, where His blood washed our sins away.

13 So let us go out to Him beyond the city walls (that is, outside the interests of this world, being willing to be despised) to suffer with Him there, bearing His shame. 14 For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our everlasting home in heaven.

15 With Jesus’ help we will continually offer our sacrifice of praise to God by telling others of the glory of His name. 16 Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to Him.
--Hebrews 13:10-16 (TLB)

In every way, Jesus fulfilled the law, even to the point of how His blood was shed outside the city walls, the blood that washed our sins away.  So in that manner, we need to go to Him outside the city walls.  And the author makes it clear that he means beyond the interests of this world, outside the influence of this earthly life, even if we are despised for doing so.  There we must be willing to suffer for His name, as He suffered for us, taking the risk of being shamed for our belief and faith.

And here we have it, the crux of this message: for this world is not our home.  This world is not our home so we should not allow it to chain us here in this existence.  We should not let it influence our actions and deeds and thoughts to the detriment of our eternal souls.

This structure we sit in this morning, built by human hands, is not the house of God.  This earthly body we inhabit is not our eternal home.  We just have to live in it temporarily, this tent of ours.  It will continue to be tough, walking through this land as a visitor.  But Jesus will help us if we only ask, so that we can continually offer our own sacrifice of praise to God through our service to Him.

So let us tell others all about Jesus and what He’s done for us, and what He can do for them.  And let’s not forget to do good and to share what we have with those in need.  For all this is pleasing to God.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for having a new home all prepared for us, a new body to inhabit in paradise.  Thank You for the wonderful promise You made with us.  And thank You for Jesus, who is the foundation of our hope.  Please help us uphold our part by obeying Your word and loving others in our daily walk.  Sometimes, Father, we let the world hold us too tightly, forgetting that this is only our temporary residence, that we are only visitors here.  Please, Father, help us remember that we are just passing through, on our way to a far greater life.  Help us remain ever faithful and obedient to You.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, You set the example as to how we should live this life when You took on an earthly body.  And then You sacrificed all so that we could be freed from the chains of this world, washed of our sins, and set free to live forever in paradise.  Thank You, Jesus, for giving of Yourself for us.  Lord Jesus, we ask You to help us let go of this world.  Strengthen our will to do what God wills us to do.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter each day.  And please help us as we try to show Your love in this, our earthly home, where hatred and distrust seem to abound.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, June 06, 2021

Faithful to God

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning, the 6th of June, 2021, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:  http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Have you ever seen someone suffering and wonder why?  Why are they hurting so much?  They’re a good person, maybe even a good, faithful follower of Jesus.  Why are they having to suffer so much?  Maybe you’ve even asked that question of your own condition: why am I having to suffer so much?  And I’m not talking only about physical hurts here, but suffering of the spirit as well.

This is a question that has been asked and debated for thousands of years now.  If God loves us all so much, then why does anyone ever have to suffer in this life?  If God loves us, why do we too often hurt so much?

The Apostle Peter was a fisherman by trade before he gave it all up to follow Jesus.  As such, he would not have been overly educated in any discipline, and most would not have thought of him as a biblical scholar.  But let’s hear how Peter responded to that question, so often asked.

Please listen and follow along to what Peter wrote in the 4th chapter of his 1st letter to the early church, verses 1 through 11, and I’ll be reading from the Contemporary English Version of our Holy Bible…
1 Christ suffered here on earth. Now you must be ready to suffer as He did, because suffering shows that you have stopped sinning. 2 It means you have turned from your own desires and want to obey God for the rest of your life. 3 You have already lived long enough like people who don’t know God. You were immoral and followed your evil desires. You went around drinking and partying and carrying on. In fact, you even worshiped disgusting idols. 4 Now your former friends wonder why you have stopped running around with them, and they curse you for it. 5 But they will have to answer to God, who judges the living and the dead. 6 The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.

7 Everything will soon come to an end. So be serious and be sensible enough to pray. 
8 Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins. 
9 Welcome people into your home and don’t grumble about it.

10 Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well. 11 If you have the gift of speaking, preach God’s message. If you have the gift of helping others, do it with the strength that God supplies. Everything should be done in a way that will bring honor to God because of Jesus Christ, who is glorious and powerful forever. Amen.
--1 Peter 4:1-11 (CEV)
Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us so many chances to do right in Your eyes.  You even sent us Your Son, that through Him our sins might be forgiven if we only accept Him as our Lord.  Thank You, Father, for also giving us a special gift, a talent or ability to be used in our service to You.  Please help us make the best use of that gift.  Help us reach out to others and share the Good News with them.  Help us remain faithful and true to You and to bring honor to You in all that we do.  And Father, please protect us from Satan’s traps and snares and from those who do his evil work.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these extraordinary times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Tell us of Your steadfast love, even in our times of suffering.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus, your Son, who suffered for us all.   Amen.


There was a French tightrope walker who did amazing feats at scary heights.  His greatest act had him crossing over a span while blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him.  An American promoter heard about this and invited the man to do his act over Niagara Falls, first stating that he didn't believe the walker could make it.  The walker accepted the challenge, even though he had never been to America nor seen the Falls.

The day of the highly promoted event came and a great crowd anxiously awaited the act.  The walker started from the Canadian side and ended on the American side, all the while blindfolded and pushing his wheelbarrow.  When he finished, he asked the promoter if he now believed the walker could do it.  "Of course," the promoter replied.  "I just saw you do it."  "No," the walker insisted, "do you really believe I can do it?"  "Yes,", the promoter replied again, "I really do believe you can do it."  "Then hop in the wheelbarrow and let's go again."


The word "believe", in the Greek, means "to live by".  We say we have faith in God, we believe in Christ, but do we live by that faith and belief?  Do we live daily as Jesus would have us live, as Peter instructs us to live?  Or are we afraid to get in the wheelbarrow?


At the start, I posed the age-old question: If God loves us, why do we have to suffer?  One way to respond to that question is with another question: where does our suffering come from?  Or more to the point, does our suffering come from God?  According to Peter, it isn’t God’s doing.  God does love us.  Every true believer knows that without a doubt.

So why do we suffer?  Peter says that our suffering shows that we have stopped sinning, that we have turned from our earthly desires and wish only to serve God.  So our suffering must be coming from the relentless attacks of Satan as he tries to pull us away from God.  Our suffering is from all the temptations of this world in conflict with our longing for eternal life in paradise.  The world will continue to grasp at us, trying to hold us back.  Some of our old friends may have abandoned us since we gave our lives to Jesus.

Peter reminds us that, soon, this life will come to an end, and God will judge us all for what we have done.  So we must pray – seriously pray.  We must love each other sincerely, unconditionally, not judging others because that is God’s job.  We must be hospitable to one another, welcoming folk without grumbling about it.  And we must use the gift that God has given us, whatever it is, in our service of others.  By serving others, we serve God, and we must do so in a way that brings honor to Him and Him alone.  And all this we do because of our Lord Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf, our Christ who is glorious and powerful forever.


So according to Peter, our suffering is an indication that we are being faithful to God.  We are trying our very best to not sin, to resist temptations, to withstand Satan’s attacks, to love one another unconditionally and sacrificially.

Peter notes that even Jesus suffered while He walked this earth.  The very Son of God suffered and hurt, so we should be ready to suffer as He did.  Granted, we most likely will not be whipped to the very point of death, nor nailed to a cross to die.  But I think the greatest pain Jesus endured was the wounds inflicted upon His spirit: being scorned and rejected by the very people He came to save, taking the sins of the world unto Himself, He who was without sin.  We can’t take on someone else’s sins, and we certainly are not without sin ourselves, but in all likelihood we will be scorned and rejected by some of the folks we try to share the Gospel with.  We may be ridiculed and made fun of, just as Jesus was.

Let me add just a bit more to our scripture reading, picking up where I left off in the 4th chapter of Peter’s 1st letter.  Please listen as I read verses 12 through 19…
12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire. 13 Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It will prepare you for even greater happiness when He makes His glorious return.

14 Count it a blessing when you suffer for being a Christian. This shows that God’s glorious Spirit is with you. 15 But you deserve to suffer if you are a murderer, a thief, a crook, or a busybody. 16 Don’t be ashamed to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God that you belong to Him. 17 God has already begun judging His own people. And if His judgment begins with us, imagine how terrible it will be for those who refuse to obey His message. The Scriptures say,

18 “If good people barely escape,
what will happen to sinners
and to others
who don’t respect God?”

19 If you suffer for obeying God, you must have complete faith in your faithful Creator and keep on doing right.
--1 Peter 4:12-19 (CEV)

We shouldn’t be surprised when we have to suffer, when our faith is put to the test.  Instead, we should be glad to suffer as Jesus suffered.  I’m sure He was glad to endure His pain, knowing that it would bring us eternal life in heaven.

I’m willing to bet most of us would not consider suffering to be a blessing.  But Peter says that suffering for the sake of Jesus, suffering because we follow Jesus, is indeed a blessing.  It’s a blessing because it shows that God’s Holy Spirit is within us, and that we belong to Him.

God will indeed judge us all, good and bad, believers and non-believers.  Our present suffering doesn’t even come close to how much those who continue to sin and those who don’t respect God will suffer.


So even as we suffer in this life, let our suffering be because we obey God.  Whether we are suffering from illness or loss, from rejection or ridicule, no matter the source of pain, let us remain completely faithful to God.  For He is ever faithful to us.  As long as we obey and serve Him and our Lord Jesus, we will have to suffer in this life.  But our reward in the next life will be great.  And then, there will be no more suffering.

Be faithful to God.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for being faithful to us.  Thank You for adopting us as Your own children when we accepted Jesus as our Lord.  Please help us in our suffering.  Sometimes, Father, this life just beats us down.  Sometimes we falter and stumble under the blows of Satan and all he throws in our path.  Please, Father, help us endure all this with peace and grace.  Help us remain ever faithful and obedient to You.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, You left Your beautiful home in heaven and came to earth to offer us all the chance to live eternally with You in paradise.  And we showed You our gratitude by ridiculing You, by nailing You to a cross, by rejecting You and all that You offered.  Thank You, Jesus, for suffering for our sakes.  Thank You for taking all our sins upon Yourself so that we could be seen as clean and sinless by God Almighty.  Lord Jesus, we ask You to help us be ever faithful to our Father God no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in nor what situation faces us.  Strengthen our will to do what God wills us to do.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter each day.  And please help us as we try to show Your love to a world where there seems to be such a short supply of love.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Faith in the Son

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Trinity Sunday morning, the 30th of May, 2021, the Sunday before Memorial Day, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Family, today is the Sunday before our Memorial Day in the US, kind of the middle of Memorial Day weekend, the first holiday of summer.  A lot of folks are on the lake or at the ocean this weekend.  A bunch of picnics will be enjoyed, along with many outdoor activities.  The true purpose of Memorial Day, of course, is to honor and remember all those who gave their lives in the performance of their duty in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States.

But today is also Trinity Sunday, when we remember that God is in three persons, and how important each is to us.  God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  All three are God and each has a role in our lives, both now and eternal.  We honored all three in our affirmation through the Nicene Creed.

The scripture I was led to for this morning also speaks of the Trinity, showing an aspect of each of the three persons of God, and at the same time highlights faith a little, and especially faith in Jesus, faith in the Son.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle John wrote in the 5th chapter of his 1st letter to the early church, verses 1 through 8, and I’ll be reading this from the Living Bible…
1 If you believe that Jesus is the Christ — that He is God’s Son and your Savior — then you are a child of God. And all who love the Father love His children too. 2 So you can find out how much you love God’s children — your brothers and sisters in the Lord — by how much you love and obey God. 3 Loving God means doing what He tells us to do, and really, that isn’t hard at all; 4 for every child of God can obey Him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him.

5 But who could possibly fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is truly the Son of God? 6-8 And we know He is, because God said so with a voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized, and again as He was facing death — yes, not only at His baptism but also as He faced death. And the Holy Spirit, forever truthful, says it too. So we have these three witnesses: the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism, and the voice before He died. And they all say the same thing: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
--1 John 5:1-8 (TLB)
Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for adopting us into Your great family and calling us Your own.  In his letter, the Apostle John tells us that our love for You should be reflected in how much we love all Your children, and how much we love them is shown in how well we obey You.  Thank You, Father, for loving us all so much.  Please help us be more loving in return.  Help us be more obedient and better servants to You and to Your Son Jesus.  Help us remain faithful and true to all three of Your persons.  And Father, please protect us from Satan’s traps and snares and from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these extraordinary times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Show us how each of Your thee persons impacts our lives to our benefit.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus, your Son.   Amen.


Pastor and author F. B. Meyer once said:  “Don’t waste your time waiting and longing for large opportunities which may never come.   But faithfully handle the little things that are always claiming your attention.”


Very few of us will ever have one of those large opportunities, where we can have a positive impact on many people.  But most of us will have many small opportunities where we can make a difference in the lives of one or two.  We just need to be faithful in the little things, and leave the rest to God.  God is more than capable of handling the biggest tasks.  He, along with His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit, created the universe and all that is in it.  He is the Father of all creation.

It’s the little things that often annoy us the most, and if we ignore them too long they begin to fester.  So let’s faithfully take care of them as they arise, trusting in God, keeping our faith in His Son.


At the start I mentioned that our scripture reading would tell us a little more about the three persons of God, and how each impacts our lives.  God is our Father who has adopted into His family those who follow His Son.  There are many children in His family, and we are to love them all, just as we love Him, just as He loves us.  We are loved, by our Father and by all our brothers and sisters through Christ.  If we don’t truly love all of our Father’s family, then how can we say we love Him, our God?

Jesus is the Son of God, whose name was proclaimed loudly from heaven by God Himself, both at His baptism and as He faced death on the cross.  Through our belief in the Son, we are adopted into the family of God and our sins are forgiven.  Through Jesus we become joint heirs with Him of our Father’s heavenly kingdom.  And Jesus will also help us defeat sin and evil pleasure if we only trust in Him.  We could not possibly stand up to Satan, let alone have a chance to win the battle against evil, if Jesus were not with us and if Jesus were not God.

And then John tells us that God’s Holy Spirit also proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God.  The Holy Spirit is forever truthful.  His is the quiet voice we hear from our hearts, although He sometimes shouts in our ear.  He also witnesses to Jesus, shining the light on the Son, encouraging us to keep our faith strong.

Christ Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus is God.  In Him is all our hope.  In Him we can place all our trust and faith.


If we do have faith in the Son, if we do believe that Jesus is the Christ and our Savior, then we are children of God.  And if we love God, we will obey Him, we will do as He commands and love all His children.

Listen to one of the last things Jesus told His disciples right after their final meal together, just before His arrest.  This comes from chapter 15 of John’s Gospel account, verses 9 through 12 and verses 16 and 17…
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love. 10 When you obey My commandments, you remain in My love, just as I obey My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is My commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.

16 "You didn’t choose Me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using My name. 17 This is My command: Love each other."
--John 15:9-12, 16-17 (NLT)

Jesus loves us just as much as our Father God loves Him.  While He walked this earth, Jesus did everything God commanded Him to do, and so remained in God’s love.  If we are to remain in Jesus’ love we must do as He commands us.  And what does He command?  Only that we love each other in the same way that He loves us – sacrificially, unconditionally, willing to give our all for each other.

Have you ever heard the expression, “You can choose your friends but not your family”?  That’s usually spoken in regard to a relative we may not particularly care for, one we may not like much.  Do we love them?  Sure – they’re family.  But that doesn’t mean we necessarily like them.

The same goes for the family of God.  We may not personally like all of God’s children, but that must not keep us from loving them, from interacting with them in a loving way, even if we don’t agree with them.  Love without conditions, love that knows no bounds, love that is willing to give all… this is what God gives and this is what God, through Jesus, demands of us.

To keep our faith in the Son strong and true, to remain in our Brother’s love, let us do as Jesus and our Father God command and love one another.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your only Son to offer us salvation.  He remained in Your love by obeying You.  Please help us be more obedient so we too can remain in Your love.  Sometimes, Father, obedience does not come easy for us, even those of us who follow Your Son.  Sometimes this life just beats us down so much that we become jaded, filled with frustration and anger, and we forget all about loving one another.  Please remind us of Your commandments.  Help us be better servants, more obedient to Your voice, more loving in all we do.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, by carrying out the mission our heavenly Father assigned You on this earth, by obeying Him faithfully and completely, You remained constantly in His love.  And that is how we can remain in Your love, by obeying Your commands to love one another, to go into the world telling everyone the Good News of salvation, and to make more followers for You.  This is the mission You have chosen us to perform.  Thank You, Jesus, for choosing us to follow You, to be included in our Father God’s family.  Lord, we ask You to help us be more obedient.  Strengthen our will to do what God wills.  Show us how to share Your love with all we meet.  Give us the courage to be more bold and daring in our service to You.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter each day.  And please help us as we try to show Your love to a world that so desperately needs it.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Spirit Poured Out

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Pentecost Sunday morning, the 23rd of May, 2021, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Family, today is Pentecost Sunday.  We celebrate Pentecost on the seventh Sunday, the 50th day, after Easter.  The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek meaning fiftieth, and was celebrated by the Jews on the 50th day following their observance of the celebration and offering of First Fruits.

It was on this day, the 50th day after Jesus was raised from the dead, that the promised Holy Spirit came down to settle upon and live within the Apostles that remained in Jerusalem.  This was truly a remarkable event, very visible, witnessed by hundreds of people.

Please listen and follow along to how the Apostle Luke recorded all that happened in the 2nd chapter of his Book of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 1 through 24 and verses 38 and 39, and I’ll be reading this from the Living Bible…
1 Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, 2 suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

5 Many godly Jews were in Jerusalem that day for the religious celebrations, having arrived from many nations. 6 And when they heard the roaring in the sky above the house, crowds came running to see what it was all about, and were stunned to hear their own languages being spoken by the disciples.

7 “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “For these men are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking all the native languages of the lands where we were born! 9 Here we are — Parthians, Medes, Elamites, men from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia Minor, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the Cyrene language areas of Libya, visitors from Rome — both Jews and Jewish converts — 11 Cretans, and Arabians. And we all hear these men telling in our own languages about the mighty miracles of God!”

12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

13 But others in the crowd were mocking. “They’re drunk, that’s all!” they said.

14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen, all of you, visitors and residents of Jerusalem alike! 15 Some of you are saying these men are drunk! It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that! People don’t get drunk by 9:00 a.m.! 16 No! What you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel — 17 ‘In the last days,’ God said, ‘I will pour out My Holy Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams. 18 Yes, the Holy Spirit shall come upon all My servants, men and women alike, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will cause strange demonstrations in the heavens and on the earth — blood and fire and clouds of smoke; 20 the sun shall turn black and the moon blood-red before that awesome Day of the Lord arrives. 21 But anyone who asks for mercy from the Lord shall have it and shall be saved.’

22 “O men of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing tremendous miracles through Him, as you well know. 23 But God, following His prearranged plan, let you use the Roman government to nail Him to the cross and murder Him. 24 Then God released Him from the horrors of death and brought Him back to life again, for death could not keep this Man within its grip."

38 Then Peter said to them, “Each one of you must turn from sin, return to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; then you also shall receive this gift, the Holy Spirit. 39 For Christ promised Him to each one of you who has been called by the Lord our God, and to your children and even to those in distant lands!”
--Acts 2:1-24, 38-39 (TLB)
Let us pray…  Father God, Jesus promised His disciples that He would appeal to You to have Your Holy Spirit sent to all those who believed in and followed Him.  And You granted that request, beginning right there in Jerusalem at Pentecost, on the 50th day after you raised Jesus from the dead.  Thank You, Father, for sending Your Spirit to live within us, to empower us, to always be with us.  Father, please help us understand just what it means to have Your Spirit in us.  Help us understand the power He brings us.  Help us take better advantage of that power in serving You and Jesus.  And Father, please protect us from Satan’s traps and snares and from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these times that still try men’s souls.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Stir Your Spirit within us.  Reignite our fire for service to our Lord Jesus.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus, your Son.   Amen.


D. L. Moody once said, "I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God's law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts.  But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God.  We must be emptied before we can be filled."


Think for a moment about drinking a fresh, cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer day.  Once you drink all the tea, the ice remains and slowly melts, leaving water in the glass.  If you simply add some more ice and refill the glass with tea, it will be mostly watered down and not quite as good.  But if you first pour out all the water and any old ice left over, you can refill the glass and start anew.  This is what Moody was talking about, becoming new all over again by pouring out all the stuff from our old way of life and letting the Holy Spirit fill us completely.

When serving as a new missionary, Herbert Jackson was assigned a car that would not start without being pushed off.  So he arranged for a group of schoolkids from near his home to push him off every morning.  As he went about his rounds during the day, he would either park on a hill so he could roll it off, or else just leave the engine running.

He followed this practice for two years until his replacement arrived.  Jackson told the young man about the car and how he got around the problem of it not starting.  While he was explaining all this, the young man lifted the hood, noticed a loose wire, reattached it, climbed into the driver’s seat, and cranked the car right up.

For two years, Jackson had worked around a problem even though the power was there and available the whole time.  Only a loose connection kept Jackson from putting that power to work.

Family, we have the same power that brought Jesus back to life, the power that brings life, the power Jesus used to heal people.  We have that power living within us, and His name is God’s Holy Spirit.  What keeps us from putting that power to work?


In our scripture reading, seven weeks had passed since Jesus was executed, buried, and then rose from the grave.  It was the day of Pentecost, the 50th day observance of the Jewish people.  The believers had gathered together in a large meeting room, or house, maybe kind of like this one we are in today.

Suddenly, a great noise arose, originating outside, like a mighty windstorm rushing down on the house, filling the room with the sound.  And then it looked like flames touched each of the believers on their heads.  All the disciples present received the Holy Spirit, and the power He brought to them.

Now because that noise came from outside the house, other people heard it, many other people.  The city was filled with religious pilgrims that day, a multitude of observant Jews having come from far off to celebrate their Pentecost.  They heard the noise and entered the house to see what was going on.  And they were amazed, partly because they heard these Galileans speaking in the languages of the countries and lands these pilgrim traveled from.  When Peter heard some of these witnesses scoffing at the whole thing, he set them straight with a well-stated and impassioned sermon.  He concluded his speech with instructions on what we all must do in order to receive this marvelous gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

I didn’t include it in our reading, but Luke goes on to tell us that the people did as Peter told them, and around 3000 came to Christ that day.  Luke concluded by saying, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Repent, Peter told the people.  Turn from sin and turn back to God.  And be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  It’s not just about being dunked in the water or having a few drops sprinkled on our heads.  Our baptism is the outward sign of the change within that comes from accepting Jesus as the Son of God, our Lord and Master, our personal Savior, our only hope and the only way to God in heaven.  Forgiveness comes with that acceptance.  The Holy Spirit comes with that acceptance.


Why is this so important to us, to have God’s Holy Spirit living within us?  One could as easily ask why would it be important to have the greatest power in the universe available for our use whenever we need it?

Jesus used God’s Spirit to heal people, to see within them, even to raise them from the dead.  God used His Spirit to raise Jesus from the dead, as well as to create the world and all that is in it.  Among other things, the Holy Spirit brings life.

Let me relate a little story to you about the power of the Holy Spirit and one man’s experience with Him.  The prophet Ezekiel recorded this, in the book bearing his name, chapter 37, verses 1 through 10…
1-2 The power of the Lord was upon me and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley full of old, dry bones that were scattered everywhere across the ground. He led me around among them, 3 and then He said to me:

“Son of dust, can these bones become people again?”

I replied, “Lord, You alone know the answer to that.”

4 Then He told me to speak to the bones and say: “O dry bones, listen to the words of God, 5 for the Lord God says, ‘See! I am going to make you live and breathe again! 6 I will replace the flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you shall live and know I am the Lord.’”

7 So I spoke these words from God, just as He told me to; and suddenly there was a rattling noise from all across the valley, and the bones of each body came together and attached to each other as they used to be. 8 Then, as I watched, the muscles and flesh formed over the bones, and skin covered them, but the bodies had no breath. 9 Then He told me to call to the wind and say: “The Lord God says: Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe upon these slain bodies, that they may live again.” 10 So I spoke to the winds as He commanded me, and the bodies began breathing; they lived and stood up — a very great army.
--Ezekiel 37:1-10 (TLB)

First, God’s Spirit led Ezekiel into a valley where a great war had been fought long, long ago.  Nothing remained of the battle except the bones of the slain, scattered throughout the area.  And then God told Ezekiel to call His Holy Spirit to breathe life into all these old, dried bones.  God covered the bones with flesh, and the Spirit gave them life.

Family, sometimes we are like those bones.  Some good Christians have slowly dried up and become lifeless.  On this Pentecost, let us pray that God send His Spirit rushing in on the wind once again.  We need His Spirit to breathe life back into our hearts.  We need Him to touch us with flame and rekindle the fire that once burned inside us, the fire for serving our Lord Jesus.  And we need for others to be able to see the Spirit at work in us and through us, through our acts and deeds and in our words.

There is no power, no force, greater than the Holy Spirit.  Let’s put that power to work, for the sake of the lost.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for the gift of You very own Spirit, poured out on all who believe in Jesus and obey His voice.  You gave Your Spirit first to the Jewish converts, and then to all who follow Your Son.  Thank You, Father, for including us so that we too can receive this wonderful gift!  But Father, sometimes we aren’t sure of how the Spirit can help us.  We know how powerful He is, but we don’t think that we can wield that power as Jesus did.  Even if we do feel that power surging within us, we don’t know how to put it to use.  Please help us listen to and understand Your Spirit better.  Help us take advantage of His power within us and use it to spread the Gospel across the globe and further advance Your kingdom.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, You promised that God’s Holy Spirit would come to all who follow You, and Your Father God fulfilled Your promise, first to His chosen people and then even to us, the Gentiles.  Thank You, Jesus, for including us in Your family, in God’s family.  Lord, we ask You to help us stay true to You.  Fortify us and strengthen our will to do God’s will.  Show us how to use the power of the Holy Spirit as You did when You walked this earth.  Give us the courage to be more bold and daring in our service to You.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter each day.  And please stand by our side as we try to show Your love to a world that so desperately needs it.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Returned Home

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning, the 16th of May, 2021, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Family, today is Ascension Sunday.  “Ascension” is the day our Lord Jesus returned home to heaven, to be with His Father God again.  This occurred 40 days after His resurrection on Easter morning, which would have made it a Thursday.  So we celebrate the Ascension on the first Sunday after Ascension Thursday.

The original Ascension itself was recorded in the Gospel accounts of the Apostles Luke and Mark, and also in Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles.  Now this is an important event to us for three reasons.  The first is obvious.  Jesus returned home, He went back to where He came from in the first place.  The second reason the Ascension is important to us is because Jesus walked among us, in the flesh, alive once again after being known dead, after being buried in a tomb.  For 40 days Jesus walked among us, showing Himself to over 500 people, before going home.  And the third reason is that He went back to heaven after promising that where He goes, we would also go.  By this we who believe are assured we will join our Lord in heaven when it is our time to go home.

So let’s see how the Apostle Luke recorded the ascension event.  Please listen and follow along to what Luke saved for us in chapter 24 of his Gospel account, verses 44 through 53, and I’ll be reading this from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible…
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
--Luke 24:44-53 (NKJV)
Let us pray…  Father God, You sent Your Son Jesus to earth to suffer and die for us that we might be redeemed of our sins.  And then You brought Him home again, to reign with You in heaven.  Thank You, Father, for giving us the chance to be saved and join You in paradise.  Father, please help us remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us.  Help us be worthy of that sacrifice by obeying You and serving our Lord.  And Father, please keep us free from Satan’s clutches, clear of his traps, safe from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these times that still try men’s souls.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Reassure us that we too will join You in heaven when it is our time to come home.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


James Packer penned these words in his book Your Father Loves You:
We know very little about heaven, but I once heard a theologian describe it as "an unknown region with a well-known inhabitant," and there is not a better way to think of it than that.
What shall we do in heaven? Not lounge around, but worship, work, think, and communicate, enjoying activity, beauty, people, and God. First and foremost, however, we shall see and love Jesus, our Savior, Master, and Friend.

To those who have learned to love and trust Jesus, the prospect of meeting Him face to face and being with Him forever is the hope that keeps us going, no matter what life may throw at us.


Throughout the ages, many artists and poets and writers and movie makers have tried to describe heaven for us, in words and pictures and songs.  We’re told it’s a land of milk and honey.  We’ve seen people with little wings standing on clouds playing harps.

Truth is, we know nothing of what heaven looks like, and only a little more than that of what it will be like.  Our Bible only gives us a glimpse of the throne room.  That’s why the description Packer provides is so appropriate: an unknown region with a very well-known inhabitant.

And the activities he suggests we’ll be engaged in make sense, too.  After all, God created us to be together, to work and think and talk with one another, to enjoy beauty around us.  Most of all, God created us to worship Him.  And those of us who follow Jesus can barely wait to see Him face to face.  It’s what keeps us going.


In our scripture reading, Jesus starts out by reminding His disciples of what He had already told them before.  He opened their eyes, gave clarity to their understanding of the writings of the Law, of the Prophets, and in the Psalms, that everything contained in them had been fulfilled in Him.  Not only was it necessary for Him to suffer and die, but that He should also rise again from the dead on the third day.

And so it is necessary for us, His followers, to preach repentance for the remission of sins, in the blessed name of Jesus, to all peoples.  We have read the accounts and the activities of His Apostles who witnessed these things, who received the Holy Spirit just as promised.  We too have received God’s Spirit, we who believe and obey, and we have been commanded to go into the world sharing the Good News of salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord.  So when Jesus returned home to heaven after blessing His followers, we partake not only of that blessing but also the assurance that we too will join Him in heaven some sweet day.


I mentioned that the Ascension was also recorded in Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles.  This “book” was actually a letter, a letter sent to his friend Theophilus, who loved God.  That very name, Theophilus, means one who loves God.  The Book of Acts was the second letter Luke wrote to Theophilus.  The first was what we know as the Gospel account of the Apostle Luke.

Let me read to you how Luke again described the Ascension to Theophilus, this time from the opening of the Book of Acts, chapter 1 verses 1 through 11, and this will be from the Living Bible…
1-2 Dear friend who loves God:

In my first letter I told you about Jesus’ life and teachings and how He returned to heaven after giving His chosen apostles further instructions from the Holy Spirit. 3 During the forty days after His crucifixion He appeared to the apostles from time to time, actually alive, and proved to them in many ways that it was really He Himself they were seeing. And on these occasions He talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

4 In one of these meetings He told them not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them in fulfillment of the Father’s promise, a matter He had previously discussed with them.

5 “John baptized you with water,” He reminded them, “but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit in just a few days.”

6 And another time when He appeared to them, they asked Him, “Lord, are You going to free Israel from Rome now and restore us as an independent nation?”

7 “The Father sets those dates,” He replied, “and they are not for you to know. 8 But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about Me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about My death and resurrection.”

9 It was not long afterwards that He rose into the sky and disappeared into a cloud, leaving them staring after Him. 10 As they were straining their eyes for another glimpse, suddenly two white-robed men were standing there among them, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has gone away to heaven, and some day, just as He went, He will return!”
--Acts 1:1-11 (TLB)

In both retellings, Luke recalls Jesus informing His disciples that the Holy Spirit will soon come to them.  They will be endued with the Spirit, baptized by Him.  We know that this occurred for them on the day of Pentecost, and for us on the day we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Master.

But in this instance the disciples asked if Jesus would free the people from Roman rule now that He was risen from the dead.  After all, this is what the Jewish people thought the Messiah was going to do for them.  Jesus simply replies that only God knows what will happen when, and all according to His plan.  And then He shifts again to His command for His followers to testify about Him to all the ends of the earth, to tell them of His death and His resurrection.

The very visible resurrection of Jesus in the flesh and His ascension into heaven are both God’s signs to us that we too will share in the victory over death and the great reunion in heaven.  Jesus made all this happen for us.

And, as those two white-robed men said, some day He will return.  Just as He went, He will return.  Jesus returned home to heaven as His followers watched, and some day He will return once again to the earth.  He’ll come back for us, His followers.  He’ll come back to take us home, that where He is, there we will be also.  And then He’ll judge the earth, and set all things right.  Some sweet, beautiful day.


For now, Jesus has returned home.  He’s back in heaven alongside His Father God.  And He left us here to carry on His work, to tell all the world about Him.  But some day He’ll come back for us.  He made that promise, and God sealed it, as we were shown by Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

Just as He went, He will return.  And He’ll take us home to be with Him.  Believe and be saved.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord!  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for the signs You give us through the resurrection and ascension of Your Son Jesus.  These assure us that we too will be raised from the dead to live forever with You in paradise, we who believe in Your Son and follow His voice.  Thank You, Father, for forgiving us our sins.  But Father, sometimes we falter in our service to You.  Sometimes we hesitate out of fear to do as Jesus commands us.  Please help us be better servants.  Help us obey Your commands.  Help us to love as You love.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, You promised us, Your followers, that You would someday come back to take us home with You, so that we could always be with You.  You defeated death and rose from the grave to show that we too share in that great victory.  We too will be granted eternal life.  And by Your ascension and return home, You showed we will also rise to heaven to live with You and our Father God.  Lord, we ask You to help us stay true to You.  Fortify us and strengthen our will to do God’s will.  Remind us of Your love, and of the great mission You gave us before You returned home.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter.  And please stand by our side as we try to show Your love to a world that so desperately needs it.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Who Is My Mother?


[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning, the 9th of May, 2021, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]



Our Bible provides us with many examples of good, godly women, of loving mothers and their deeds.  When we think of biblical mothers, our thoughts often turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus, or to Eve, the mother of us all.  And then there’s Naomi, better known for being the mother-in-law of Ruth.

One of my favorites is simply identified as the mother of Zebedee’s sons.  The sons of Zebedee, of course, were James and John, whom Jesus referred to as the Sons of Thunder, called as disciples immediately after Peter and Andrew.  We see her twice: once when she asked Jesus for special favors for her sons, and then at the cross as Jesus died.

King David and his son King Solomon both sang the praises of mothers, and mothers play prominent roles in both Testaments of our Bible.  But there was a time when Jesus felt compelled to give a little different slant on that special relationship.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Mark recorded in the 3rd chapter of his Gospel account, verses 31 through 35, and I’ll be reading this from the New Living Translation of our Holy Bible…
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him. They stood outside and sent word for Him to come out and talk with them. 32 There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and Your brothers are outside asking for You.”

33 Jesus replied, “Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?” 34 Then He looked at those around Him and said, “Look, these are My mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother.”
--Mark 3:31-35 (NLT)
Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us our mothers.  They nurtured us and took care of us and taught us how to be adults.  Father, please help us remember and honor our mothers.  No one is perfect, but they always did the best they could.  Help us be better parents ourselves, even to those who are not really our children.  Help us nourish others and show them Your love.  And Father, please keep us safe from Satan’s snares and temptations, and from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and our service to Jesus.  Please keep us healthy and safe through these worrisome times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us this day.  Remind us of Your love reflected in the love of our mothers.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Abraham Lincoln once noted that, "No man is poor who has had a godly mother."  An old Spanish proverb says, "An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest."

Ilion Jones writes that, "On the great biographer Ida M. Tarbell's 80th birthday, someone asked her to name the greatest persons she had ever met.  She responded, 'The greatest persons I have ever met are those nobody knows anything about.'

"Once the New York Times was asked to help a woman’s club decide on the twelve greatest women in the United States.  After due consideration, the editors replied, 'The twelve greatest women in the United States are women who have never been heard of outside of their own homes.'"

Jones concludes, "I ask you, who was greater, Thomas Edison or his mother?  When he was a young lad his teacher sent him home with a note which said, 'Your child is dumb.  We can't do anything for him.'  Mrs. Edison wrote back, 'You do not understand my boy.  I will teach him myself'.  And she did, with results that are well known."


Mothers are among the most unrecognized people of greatness in our society.  Sure, they get one day a year of credit for their efforts, which may boil down to only a few hours when it gets right down to it.  They mean so much to us individually, but few are ever known of outside their own homes.  So let’s truly celebrate our mothers, today and every day, for they are a gift from God.

Who is My mother, Jesus asked.

We all have a mother.  For some mothers, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcome one.  For some, motherhood, even under the very best of circumstances, is still less than a bed of roses.  For some women, biological motherhood isn’t possible.  For some of us, mothers weren’t all that nice.

So why bother with Mothers’ Day at all?  Because for all its stumbling blocks, pitfalls and broken dreams, for all the soiled diapers, crayoned wallpaper, and spoiled plans, motherhood is a beautiful ideal, a natural part of God’s creative plan to bring love and caring to light.  Motherhood is a constant and enduring demand for the gift of love and caring.


Why did Jesus ask that question, “who is My mother”?  Let’s be clear up front that this was simply to set the stage for a teaching moment, for providing more insight into the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, Jesus was busy with the crowd.  But it isn’t like He was too busy for His mother, whom we know He loved.

Oh, wait…  how do we know Jesus loved Mary, how do we know He cared for His earthly mother?  Well, because He assigned His beloved disciple John to watch over her after He was gone.  Listen to the words John recorded in chapter 19 of his Gospel account, verses 25 through 27…
25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.
--John 19:25-27 (NKJV)

John was to treat Mary as if she were his own mother, and she was to consider John as her own son.  Jesus wanted to make sure that Mary would be well taken care of after He departed this world.  And here again, Jesus is telling us that anyone who does the will of God, as Mary certainly did, should be treated with the same respect and love as our own mother.

In addition to this, though, we know that Jesus followed the Law of Moses and the commandments His Father God handed down.  He said that He came to fulfill the law, not destroy it, and that any part of the law was just as important as any other.

In his book of the Exodus, Moses gives us a glimpse of what Jesus means here by providing a little more insight into God’s law when it comes to our parents.  Please listen as I read from Exodus chapter 20 verse 12 and chapter 21 verses 15 and 17…
20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

21:15 “And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

21:17 “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death."
--Exodus 20:12; 21:15, 17 (NKJV)

Since this is Mother’s Day, let’s just dwell on the mother side of this issue.  We must honor our mothers.  Anyone who strikes their mother will be put to death.  Anyone who curses their mother will be put to death.  Now in the sense of the kingdom of heaven, being put to death means the second death, eternal death, everlasting torment and separation from God.

Add to that what Jesus says, that anyone who does God’s will is our mother.  So we should honor any and all who do God’s will.  We should never strike them nor curse them lest we suffer God’s wrath.

And really, isn’t this just an extension of the command Jesus gave us, to love one another?  For if we do love others, we will treat them with kindness and respect, never even considering striking them or cursing them.  Love others as we love ourselves, as Jesus loves us, as we love our mothers.


So again I say Happy Mother’s Day, to all mothers and to all who do the will of God!  Cherish your mother, if she is still with you.  Or if she has already gone to her just rewards, then cherish her memory.  And not just today, but every day.  Cherish all who do the will of God, for they are our brothers and sisters and mothers.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord!  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for the gift of our mothers.  They love us even when we are unlovable.  They love us as a reflection of Your love.  Thank You, Father, for the tender care and mercy they give us so that through them we might see You.  But Father, sometimes we get too caught up in the details of day to day life and we lose sight of just how important it is for us to love all those folks You put into our lives, including our mothers and all who do Your will.  Sometimes we have trouble even loving ourselves.  Please help us honor the wonderful institution of motherhood that You gave us.  Help us show You our love by loving all others, just as You love us.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You from our hearts through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more faithful and true, putting all our trust in You and Jesus, and seeking Your help as we do so…

Lord Jesus, You knew that we would have trouble doing as You commanded us, something so seemingly simple as loving others.  You knew there would be so many that we find unlovable, so many that we would shun and scorn because they are unlike us, or because they themselves hate us.  So You gave us some examples of what love is, what love means.  You took the time-honored institution of motherhood and showed us that we should love anyone who does the will of our heavenly Father God, loving them as if they were our own mother.  Lord, we ask You to help us understand and obey.  Fortify our will to do God’s will.  Reassure us that what You ask is not really that difficult if we truly listen to Your voice.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, kinder to all we encounter.  And please stand by our side as we try to show Your love to a world that so desperately needs it.  All this we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.