Sunday, May 22, 2022

What God Has Made Clean

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday the 22nd of May, 2022, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is: 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.]


Not long after the events of last week’s scripture reading, while Peter was still in Joppa, a Roman Centurion reached out to the Apostle, asking him to come and tell his household about Jesus.  Normally, Peter, as a good Jew, would never have entered the home of a Gentile.  But just moments before the Centurion’s emissaries arrived where Peter was staying, he received a clear message from the now ascended Jesus.  So he went with them, entered the Centurion’s home, and told them all about Jesus, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers were quite upset with him for breaking with Jewish tradition.  Please listen and follow along to how Peter replied to their complaints, as recorded by the Apostle Luke in the 11th chapter of his Book of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 1 through 18, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. 2 But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. 3 “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.

4 Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. 5 “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me. 6 When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. 7 And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’

8 “‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.’

9 “But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.

11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”

--Acts 11:1-18 (NLT)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for allowing us Gentiles to receive Your Holy Spirit just as did those of Your chosen people when they believed in Jesus as Your Messiah.  Thank You for baptizing us with Your Spirit.  Forgive us, please, when we think ourselves better than others.  Forgive us when we let man’s laws or customs get in the way of our worshiping You and serving Your Son.  Please help us remember that we accept Jesus as our Lord and Master, and call ourselves by His name.  Help us to love all others.  Remind us that You created us all in Your image - not just those who believe but every person on this earth.  And Father, please protect us from Satan and from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and one purpose in our love, worship, and service, and healthy and safe through these trying 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 our shortcomings.  Help us see how we can better fill our role in Your great plan of salvation for mankind.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


In 1818, Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis was born into a world of dying women.  The finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of “childbed fever.”  A doctor's daily routine began in the dissecting room where he performed autopsies.  From there he made his way to the hospital to examine expectant mothers without ever pausing to wash his hands.  Dr. Semmelweis was the first man in history to associate such examinations with the resultant infection and death.  His own practice was to wash with a chlorine solution, and after eleven years and the delivery of 8,537 babies, he lost only 184 mothers -- about one in fifty. 

He spent the vigor of his life lecturing and debating with his colleagues.  Once he argued, "Puerperal fever is caused by decomposed material, conveyed to a wound.  I have shown how it can be prevented.  I have proved all that I have said.  But while we talk, talk, talk, gentlemen, women are dying.  I am not asking anything world shaking.  I am asking you only to wash.  For God's sake, wash your hands." But virtually no one believed him.  Doctors and midwives had been delivering babies for thousands of years without washing, and no outspoken Hungarian was going to change them now! 

Semmelweis died insane at the age of 47, his wash basins discarded, his colleagues laughing in his face, and the death rattle of a thousand women ringing in his ears.  "Wash me!", was the anguished prayer of King David.  "Wash!", was the message of John the Baptist.  "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me," said the towel-draped Jesus to Peter.  Without our being washed clean, we all die from the contamination of sin.  Fortunately for us, when we accepted Jesus as our Lord, we were washed by His blood, made clean by God.


Isn’t it amazing, from today’s viewpoint, just how long it took to realize that a doctor needed to wash his hands before examining a patient?  In our current medical profession, sanitizing hands is considered and treated with the utmost importance.  All during the pandemic, we were cautioned to wash our hands frequently.  The practice helps prevent us from spreading or ingesting germs and viruses.  And yet, just 200 years ago, poor Dr. Semmelweis went insane and died young because his peers refused to accept the truth he showed them.

Washing saves lives.  Being washed clean by the blood of Jesus saves eternal lives.


In our scripture reading this morning, Peter has returned from Jerusalem after his brief stay in Joppa and his visit to Lydda.  The apostles and other believers there had already heard about what all had happened, and some of the Jewish believers criticized Peter for breaking with their customs and entering the home of a Gentile.

So Peter told them exactly what happened with the Roman Centurion, for that was the specific cause of their complaint.  And that experience with the Roman really began with two visions.


The first vision came to Peter while he was still in Joppa.  Something that looked like a large sheet was lowered from heaven, containing all manner of creatures, both domesticated and wild, that walked or crawled or flew.  And Peter heard a voice telling him to take something, kill it, and eat it.

Now in the version I read, the words of that voice were written in red ink, which means the voice belonged to Jesus.  Peter complained that he couldn’t eat anything unclean because it would violate the Jewish laws that he had always lived by.  But then the voice reminded him that he shouldn’t consider anything unclean that God had made clean.  This was repeated three times, so that Peter would fully understand the implication of the vision.


The second vision came to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, in the city of Caesarea.  In his vision, Cornelius was told to send messengers to Joppa to seek out a man named Simon Peter who could tell him and his entire household what they needed to do to be saved.  Now Cornelius believed in the one true God and so he obeyed the vision, sending his trusted friends and servants to Joppa to find Peter and ask him to go to Caesarea with them.

Normally, Peter would never had entered the Centurion’s home, so that the Jewish believers would have had nothing to complain about.  But because of the message in his vision, he did not hesitate to go speak with the household of Cornelius, enabling them to be washed clean by the blood of Jesus and to receive the Holy Spirit.


When we get too concerned with the things of man, we tend to lose sight of the things of heaven.  Because Peter was shown the importance of listening to God’s word and putting that ahead of any of man’s customs and rituals, the Gospel message was first given to Gentiles.  And because Peter set that precedent, others followed his example.

Let me continue with today’s scripture reading, picking back up in chapter 11 of Acts with verses 19 through 30…
19 Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. 20 However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. 21 The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.

22 When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24 Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)

27 During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) 29 So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30 This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.
--Acts 11:19-30 (NLT)

Because Peter was willing to go against the common custom and rituals of his day, the church of Jesus grew and spread into all of Asia Minor.  And by the way, because of that growth, started by Peter’s simple act of entering a Gentile’s home, we first came to be called Christians.

Barnabas was sent to Antioch to witness evidence of the church’s growth.  He went to Tarsus and brought Paul back to Antioch with him, where they both stayed a while and shared the Gospel.  And in Antioch we believers in Jesus as Christ got our new name: Christian.

One other little benefit of Peter’s actions in Caesarea is that prophets of God also came from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, Agabus, rightly predicted, by the Holy Spirit’s prodding, that a great famine would soon strike the entire Roman world.  So the Christians in Antioch took up a collection for the apostles and believers in Jerusalem, sending it to them by Barnabas and Paul.  In this way, these new Christians helped save the first Christians.


What God has made clean we must not call unclean or common.  Peter made one little comment in his defense to the Jewish believers that may go unnoticed.  At the end of verse 17, Peter asked, “Who was I to stand in God’s way?”

If God has made something clean, who am I to question Him and call it unclean?  If God has created us all – all of mankind – in His own image, who am I to counter Him and call someone common, or less than I?  God has a plan for the salvation of man, and He has a role for me to play.  Who am I to stand in God’s way?

In modern times, the church has been shrinking.  Could it be because we’ve become too focused on the things of man, losing sight of the things of heaven?  Have we let customs and rituals replace true love and worship?  Or maybe we’ve just too often stood in God’s way.

Family, we need to get back to our first love and serve our Lord Jesus, loving our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and loving our fellow man whom God created the same as He did you and I.  Let’s be sure not to stand in God’s way, but instead to do His bidding as Peter did.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for everything You ensured would be saved for us in our Bible.  By these words You remind us that You created us all in Your image, so that we should never consider anyone beneath us.  What You have made clean should never be considered common or unclean.  Thank You, Father, for washing us clean in the blood of Your only Son Jesus.  Father, sometimes we let our rituals and customs get in the way of true worship.  Sometimes we forget that You love us all, and command us to love, too.  Forgive us, Father, when we forget the lessens shared in our Bible.  Forgive us when stand in Your way.  Please help us to always honor Your word.  And Father, please help us remain strong, faithful, and true through all that we face in this age.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more obedient to Your commands, and seeking Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You spoke to Peter and told him and us not to let rituals stand in the way of doing God’s will.  You showed him what it means to share the Gospel.  Through You and Your blood spilled on our behalf, we are baptized by the Holy Spirit and born again into God’s great family.  Thank You, Lord, for washing us clean.  And thank You for letting us share Your love with others, just as You love us.  Please, Lord, forgive us when we put ourselves and our own desires ahead of the needs of others.  Help us be more conscientious in our service.  Remind us that we were all created in the same way and that God loves us all.  Show each of us how we can share the Good News You brought into the world.  And Lord Jesus, please heal the hurts that separate and divide us.  Help us remain trusting and obedient no matter what we go through.  Help us keep our focus on the things of heaven and the needs of others rather than on what this life might offer.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Jesus Still Heals

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday the 15th of May, 2022, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is: 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.]


In our Christian calendar, today is the 5th Sunday of Easter.  Jesus has risen from the grave, appeared before around 500 people, and ascended back into heaven.  He no longer walks this earth.  His days of mighty works and healing people of all manner of afflictions are over and done.  Or are they?

Do you remember what Jesus said while He was still among us?  He promised that anyone who believes in Him will be able to do even greater works than He did once He returns to the Father, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  He told this to His disciples, but it was saved for us as well by the Apostle John.

The disciples took these words to heart, believed completely in what Jesus told them, especially Peter.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Luke recorded for us in chapter 9 of his Book of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 32 through 43, and I’ll be reading this from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible…
32 Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. 33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately. 35 So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

36 At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. 43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
--Acts 9:32-43 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to live within us, that through Him we have the same awesome power that breathes life into all creation and that raised Jesus from the dead.  And thank You especially for granting what we ask in the name of Your Son and our Lord Jesus.  Forgive us, please, when we doubt ourselves and the power within us.  Forgive us when we fail to trust in Jesus’ word that we can do even greater things than He through Your Spirit.  Please help us remember that we have that mighty power within us.  Help us use Your Spirit to help others and increase Your kingdom’s reach.  And Father, please protect us from Satan and from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and one purpose in our love, worship, and service, and healthy and safe through these trying 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 we can better serve You by trusting in Your Spirit to guide us and empower us.  Help us do what Jesus did.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


One New Year's Day in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit.  It was out of gas.  The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas.  The amusing thing was this float represented the Standard Oil Company.  With its vast oil resources, its truck was out of gas.

Often, Christians neglect their spiritual maintenance, and though they are “clothed with power”, the power of God's Holy Spirit, they too often find themselves “out of gas”.


You’ve got to love that image: the Standard Oil Co. float running out of gas in the middle of a parade.  But that’s what happens when we don’t check the fuel gauge before heading, or maybe we just don’t believe what the gauge is showing.

God has filled our spiritual tanks with His own Holy Spirit, yet too often we either don’t fully understand what that means or we just don’t believe the Spirit is there for our use.  And like the float truck, we physically run out of gas while sitting on an untouched reservoir of spiritual fuel that has no bounds.  We need to more fully trust in God’s word and the power He places at our disposal.


A couple of times now I’ve mentioned the wonders Jesus said we would be able to do.  This comes from a conversation He had with His disciples while He was still engaged in His ministry.  Jesus may have been speaking to His disciples, but He was also speaking to us since He knew we’d be reading or hearing His words.

The Apostle John saved it all for us, in the 14th chapter of his Gospel account, verses 11 through 14, where Jesus said…
11 “Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen Me do.

12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in My name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it!”
--John 14:11-14 (NLT)

We, personally, did not see the work that Jesus did, not with our own eyes.  But we read about His mighty deeds in the writings that His followers left behind for us, those who did witness the miracles with their eyes.  And we believe what they wrote, if for no other reason than because their words were never refuted by other eye witnesses.

We believe because we have faith.  We believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ, and we believe in the miracles He performed.  And because we believe, just as Jesus promised, God sent His Holy Spirit to live within us, to empower us, to guide us, to be our constant Companion, to pray for us when we can’t find the words to pray for ourselves.

We have the power of God, through His Holy Spirit, within each and every one of us who believes.  This is the same power that helped create the universe, that breathes life into all things, that raised Jesus from the dead, and that gave Jesus the power and the authority to do the things He could do.  That power is ours!

So why can’t we use it?  Why can’t we heal our loved ones when they are sick?  Why can’t we calm the storm or call the rains during a drought?  Why can’t we put an end to the senseless slaughter in our streets and around the world?  Maybe we just don’t believe enough.


Let’s look back at our scripture reading for a moment, at two things I believe may be easily missed.  The first I want to look at came second in the reading, at Joppa and the bedside of Tabitha, also known by her Greek name, Dorcas.  Tabitha had died from an illness while Peter was still in Lydda, but two believers sent word to Peter asking him to come.

So what did Peter do when they showed him the body of their dear friend?  Well, first, he cleared the room until he was alone with Tabitha.  But then he knelt down and prayed.  I truly wish we knew what he prayed, the words he spoke, but Luke didn’t save that for us, maybe because he didn’t hear the prayer.  I guess the words don’t really matter, just that he prayed to God before doing anything else.

Maybe Peter remembered something Jesus once told them.  The disciples had been out healing and casting our evil spirits but they came upon one young man who had a bad spirit they could not drive out.  When they approached Jesus, He told them that this kind could only be driven out by prayer.

So Peter humbled himself before God and prayed.  Then he simply told Tabitha to rise, and she opened her eyes, sat up, and lived again.  God listens and answers prayers.


The second important point I’d like to mention came in Lydda when Peter came across Aeneas, who was paralyzed and bedridden for eight years.  Did Peter do like modern-day faith healers and put his hand on the man’s head and say something like, “I heal you in the name of Jesus!”?  Did Peter do anything at all?  No, he simply said, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you.”  “I’m not healing you.  It has nothing to do with me.  Jesus heals you.”

Jesus may have no longer been working His ministry, He may not have been there in the flesh with Peter, but He was still healing people, He was still bringing the dead back to life, He was still doing miracles.  And He was doing it all through those who believed, through those who prayed, through those who allowed God’s Holy Spirit to work through them.


I am weak, I am limited, I am not God and I cannot do Godly things.  Being able to perform miracles is not in my wheelhouse.  And no matter what I tell myself, no matter what I read, no matter what I believe in my head, as long as I hold those doubts in my heart, I will never be able to do the works Jesus did.  My heartfelt doubts hold me back.

And my greatest doubt is that God would empower me, a horrible sinner, to do wondrous miracles.  I know God’s Spirit is within me because I can feel Him guiding me.  He gives me the words to say each Sunday, the words to pray each time I am called on to pray, the words to maybe help another come to know Jesus.  He gives me confidence and courage and hope.  But I just cannot believe He gives me the power to perform miracles like Jesus did.  And I don’t think I am alone in my doubts.


Family, Jesus still heals.  He may no longer be with us in the flesh, but He is with us in the Spirit, and He promised to always be with us.  And just as He did through Peter, Jesus heals through other people, using the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within them.  We have seen Him heal.  He may use doctors and medical teams to perform His mighty works.  Or He may simply use our prayers.

If we let Him, if we can cast away our doubts long enough, He may even use us.  We just need to humble ourselves and pray, and trust in the power of God’s Holy Spirit within us.  In the blessed name of the Great Healer, Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us the wonderful gift of Your Holy Spirit to live within us.  He is our constant Companion and Guide.  He encourages us and speaks for us when the words won’t come.  And He will embolden us and empower us to do great things if we would only truly believe it.  Thank You, Father, for loving us this much.  Father, sometimes we let our human feelings and doubts get in our way of fully trusting in You and Your promises.  Sometimes our fears hold us back from fully serving You.  Forgive us, Father, for our doubts and fears.  Forgive us when we heed the words Satan whispers in our ear and let the doubts grow in our hearts.  Please help us resist the devil and ignore him when we tells us what we can’t do, instead putting all our trust in You and Your word.  And Father, please help us remain strong, faithful, and true through all that we face in this age.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more obedient to Your commands, and seeking Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, while You walked this earth, You healed people of all manner of illness and infirmity.  You cast off evil spirits and even raised the dead back to life.  And You did it all through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  And then You promised to have God send us His Spirit, too, that we might do even greater works than You.  Thank You, Lord, for casting out the evil spirit of sin from our lives.  And thank You for empowering us with God’s Spirit.  Please, Lord, forgive us when we let our heartfelt doubts keep us from taking full advantage of the Spirit within us.  Help us shrug off Satan when he tells us that we are powerless, that we can do nothing to positively affect the world around us.  Remind us that we have the most powerful force in all of creation living right here inside us.  Show us how to make better use of God’s Spirit in His service.  And Lord Jesus, please heal the hurts that separate and divide us.  Help us remain trusting and obedient no matter what we go through.  Help us keep our focus on the things of heaven and the needs of others rather than on what this life might offer.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Mothers and Sons

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Mother's Day, Sunday the 8th of May, 2022, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is: 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.]


In six days God created the universe out of nothing, our world, and all that is in it.  He created each plant, each flower and each tree.  He created each creature that roamed the earth, flew the skies, or swam the seas.  And then He created man, in His own image.  So the man would not be alone, God created woman.  Not too long after this, the woman gave birth to sons, and the first family was formed.

From the very beginning, God intended for us to be a family, to be part of a family, part of something greater than ourselves.  That is why He adopts us - we who believe in His Son and accept Him as Lord – into His own great family.  And while the man might be considered the “head of the family”, there would be no family at all without the woman, the mother.

From that first family on, there has been a special relationship between mothers and sons.  Yes, there is also a special bond between mothers and daughters too, for little girls look to their mothers to learn how to become a woman, too.  Just as boys look to their fathers to learn to be a man.  But mothers and sons have a special place in the story of mankind, and especially in our Bible.  Today being Mother’s Day, I’d like to look at one individual that exemplifies how important a mother’s influence is on her son.

Since I am going to spend a few Sundays examining the events of the early church, this particular individual is first briefly identified in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Luke recorded for us in chapter 16 of his Book of Acts, verses 1 through 5, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, 3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.
--Acts 16:1-5 (NLT)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us a family to belong to.  And thank You especially for our mothers who nurture us and influence our entire lives.  Thank You Father for extending Your great family to include all those who believe in Jesus and accept as our Lord.  Forgive us, please, when we abandon our family, for whatever reason.  Forgive us when we fail to honor our fathers and mothers, when we don’t always treat other believers as “family”.  Please help us remember that You gave us families for a reason, so that we are never alone.  Help us be better sons and daughters, not only to our earthly family but also to You, our heavenly Father.  And Father, please protect us from Satan and from those who do his work.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and one purpose in our love, worship, and service, and healthy and safe through these trying 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 important our family is to us.  Help us be better, more supportive and obedient members of our Christian family.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.

I've probably used this before, but it bears repeating.  In his book, Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise, John Killenger gives us this affirmation of our faith and our love:
I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the loving God, who was born of the promise to a virgin named Mary.

I believe in the love Mary gave her Son, that caused her to follow Him in His ministry and stand by His cross as He died.

I believe in the love of all mothers, and its importance in the lives of the children they bear. It is stronger than steel, softer than down, and more resilient than a green sapling on the hillside. It closes wounds, melts disappointments, and enables the weakest child to stand tall and straight in the fields of adversity.

I believe that this love, even at its best, is only a shadow of the love of God, a dark reflection of all that we can expect of Him, both in this life and the next.

And I believe that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a mother who lets this greater love flow through her to her child, blessing the world with the tenderness of her touch and the tears of her joy.

There is arguably no greater earthly love than a mother’s love for her child.  It is a protective and nurturing love.  We see examples all the time in the animal kingdom, with a mother bear or mother lion charging into the face of danger to protect her cub.  We watch as a mother wolf teaches her pups how to hunt.  We even see that great love in a mother bird as she nudges her fledglings out of the nest, forcing them to fly on their own.  And of course, we can not only see but also experience the bond between a human mother and her child, which begins in the womb.  We can see it in her smile as she holds her newborn for the very first time.

And yet, Mr. Killenger reminds us that this greatest earthly love is merely a shadow, a brief taste, of the love of God.  How beautiful and blessed the mother who passes this greatest love of all onto her child.


This is precisely the case of our study subject Timothy, as we will see shortly.  Luke briefly introduces us to Timothy as being a resident of the Roman colony of Lystra, which was located in present-day Turkey.  Timothy’s mother was a Jewish believer in Jesus as the Messiah, but his father was a Greek, a Gentile.  The young man already had a good reputation in the area, and Paul wanted him to go along on their missionary journeys.  Since everyone knew that Timothy’s father was a Gentile, and since they would be going to and among the Jews on their travels, Paul arranged to have the young man circumcised by Jewish custom.

And so they went from town to town, spreading the Gospel and sharing with believers the importance of following the decisions made by the apostles and church elders in Jerusalem, establishing a church hierarchy, if you will.  And the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger day by day.


So right there, we get a glimpse of how important Timothy was to the beginnings and growth of the early church.  If nothing else, by his own good reputation he helped Paul become more readily accepted by the locals in the towns so that Paul could do his work to greater success.  But why was Timothy so effective in his own right?  Why was he so well respected by the Christians in the region?  I think it all goes back to his mother, with some help from his maternal grandmother.


While Luke doesn’t get into much detail about Timothy, the man who became like a father to him does.  Paul tutored the young man, mentored him as his protégé, groomed him for the ministry, and put him in place in churches in that region.

We know of two letters Paul wrote to the one he called his son in the faith.  The first was likely written while Paul was in Macedonia on his way to Nicopolis, and was intended to guide Timothy in the conduct of his pastoral responsibilities.  The second letter, though, was penned after Paul completed his missionary journeys, and while he was imprisoned in Rome.

Realizing his death was near, Paul wrote this second epistle of encouragement and instruction, reaching out one last time to his son in the Spirit.  Please listen to the words Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to Timothy, starting in chapter 1 verses 1 through 7 and 13 and 14, then skipping to chapter 3 verses 14 and 15…
1:1 This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I have been sent out to tell others about the life He has promised through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 I am writing to Timothy, my dear son.

May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace.

3 Timothy, I thank God for you — the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.

5 I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. 6 This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

13 Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me — a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.

3:14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.
--2 Timothy 1:1-7, 13-14; 3:14-15 (NLT)

And now we see how important a role mothers play in our lives.  Paul first speaks of the faith that first filled Timothy’s grandmother Lois.  Lois passed that faith along to her daughter Eunice, who in turn passed it on to her son, Paul’s beloved Timothy.  This was a genuine faith that burned strong in all three, a faith that Paul cautions Timothy to keep fanning, to keep his spiritual alive and active.

And this is where Paul reminds us all that God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.  We are to hold on to the pattern of wholesome teachings that we gained from our own mothers and those who have taught us the Gospel, the pattern shaped by our own faith and love that comes from Jesus.  We are to guard the truth that has been entrusted to us, remaining ever faithful to all we have been taught.  Just as Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother, from childhood, who gave him the wisdom to receive salvation that comes only by trusting in Christ Jesus.

I can’t help but wonder what might Timothy have been like had Lois, his grandmother, not given Eunice, his mother, a strong foundation of faith, which Eunice in turn passed along to her son.


There is one more incident in our Bible concerning mothers and sons I’d like to look at, one that occurred before the events recorded in Luke’s Book of Acts.  I believe this one clearly expresses the importance of motherhood to God, and to Jesus.

While suffering great and horrible agony on the cross, with His last dying breaths Jesus uttered these few words, as recorded by the Apostle John in chapter 19 of his Gospel account, verses 25 through 27…
25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw His mother standing there beside the disciple He loved, He said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And He said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
--John 19:25-27 (NLT)

I know Jesus suffered on the cross; suffered physically from the pain and torment, and suffered spiritually for taking all our sin upon Himself.  But I can’t even imagine how much His mother suffered, standing there, watching all this happen to her Son.  You can see her heart breaking, the tears streaming down her face, her knees buckling under the weight of emotional and spiritual pain.

Jesus saw this, there from the cross, and took pity.  He noticed that His beloved disciple John stood there at her side, so He gave them both a new assignment.  Speaking to Mary He said, “Dear woman, here is your son.”  And then to John He instructed, “Here is your mother.”

Now we need to understand that this was more than just a symbolic gesture.  In effect, Jesus was telling His mother that this man who He had personally called to follow Him would now be as a son to her.  And He commanded John to accept Mary as his own mother.

In those days, a woman was dependent upon her husband and later on her children for she would have no others means of income and support.  We don’t know what happened to Joseph, only that he was not around at this point.  Jesus wanted to ensure His mother would be taken care of, so He turned that responsibility over to John, who readily accepted it.  This is the love of Jesus for His mother, the love of God for a mother’s critical role in the family.


Family, there is one simple, biological truth:  we all have or had a mother.  She may not be or have been the greatest person in the world, she may no longer be with us, but we’ve all had one, we were all given birth by a woman.  We were all given by God to be part of a family.

Not all women are cut out for motherhood, but I’d like to think they all do their level best.  Sometimes, though, the world just gets to be too much for them and their maternal feelings fly out the window.  Those mothers need our prayers.  All mothers need our love.

Let’s remember our mothers, this Mother’s Day and every day.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us families.  The family unit was part of Your earliest creation, and has the greatest influence on our lives.  Sadly, not everyone was able to enjoy a stable family life, but we all can be a part of Your great family by simply believing in Your Son Jesus and accepting Him as our Lord.  Thank You, Father, for providing for us to have a family, to be a part of something greater than ourselves.  Father, sometimes we take our family for granted.  Sometimes we fail to honor our parents as we should.  And sometimes we ourselves are not very good at being parents.  Forgive us, Father, for our weaknesses.  Forgive us when we are unable to carry out our duties and responsibilities in a loving manner.  Please help us be more obedient to Your commands.  And Father, please help us remain strong, faithful, and true through all that we face in this age.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more obedient to Your commands, and seeking Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You showed You love for Your mother by ensuring her needs would be provide for after Your death, resurrection, and ascension.  You instructed Your beloved disciple John to take care of her and watch over her as if she were his own mother.  Thank You, Lord, for showing us just how important motherhood is to You and to us as well.  Please, Lord, forgive us when we tend to put ourselves first, not giving the honor and respect our mothers deserve.  Help us show all mothers Your love through our love.  Remind us that God created and loves all mothers, and so should we.  Show us how we can be better members of our individual families and our larger family of God.  And Lord Jesus, please heal the hurts that separate and divide us.  Help us remain trusting and obedient no matter what we go through.  Help us keep our focus on the things of heaven and the needs of others rather than on what this life might offer.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

May the Scales Fall

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on the third Sunday of Easter, the 1st of May, 2022, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is: 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.]


What we know of as the Book of Luke, or the Gospel account according to the Apostle Luke, was dedicated to a friend of his named Theophilus.  The name Theophilus means “dear to God” or “friend of God”, and being a Greek name, we can be pretty sure this friend was a Gentile.  Luke himself was a Gentile, and in fact, probably the only Gentile author of any of our New Testament.  He was a physician by profession but became more of an evangelist, accompanying his friend, the Apostle Paul, on his missionary trips.

In that book of Luke’s Gospel account, he told the story of Jesus’ life based on interviews with those who had actually walked with Jesus.  But then Luke wrote a second book for Theophilus to read, and this one covered what occurred after Jesus was resurrected from the dead and had ascended into heaven.  In it, he tried to recount all that happened to the early church, and all that the apostles did up until that point.  Indeed, it gives us the best view of the early church, how it took root and how it evolved.


Over the course of the next several weeks, I want to dig into this Book of Acts of the Apostles, for it contains a wealth of valuable information for us.  We can learn from the examples it provides, both of things to do and things not to do.  And I’ll probably be skipping around a bit, not necessarily following any order.

Since Paul was such a critical figure in the growth of the early church, and still an inspiration to us today, I’d like to start with his conversion, for he wasn’t always a friend of the church.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Luke recorded for us in chapter 9 of his Book of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 1 through 22, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible…
1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”

And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”

22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
--Acts 9:1-22 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for taking what some may consider the worst among us and opening our eyes to the truth and allowing us to serve You.  So many of our heroes in the Bible were flawed individuals, just like us, yet You took them and used them to their fullest in Your great plan.  Thank You Father for giving us these examples of how You can take anyone and make them a great servant.  Thank You for lifting the scales from their - and our - eyes.  Forgive us, please, when we close our eyes to the truth.  Forgive us when we fail to live up to our potential.  Please help us better see how You can use us.  Help us understand our role in Your plan.  And Father, please protect us from Satan and from those who do his work, splitting us apart, pulling us away from Jesus.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and one purpose in our love, worship, and service, and healthy and safe through these trying 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.  Improve our spiritual vision that we might better see our true purpose at this stage of our life.  Help us serve Your will.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Christian author Lynn Anderson once noted that:
About 400 years ago, a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America.  The first year they established a town site.  The next year they elected a town government.  The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.

In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness.  Who needed to go there anyway?

Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there.  But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town.  They had lost their pioneering vision.  With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great.  Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.

Some among us are great explorers, putting all fears and doubts aside to set off on grand adventures.  Human history, especially American history, records many expeditions into unknown and uncharted territories.  These people have a vision, as seen through their mind’s eye, of what lies ahead, just a little further than most can see.

Our first settlers crossed the wide Atlantic in ships most of us wouldn’t dare set foot in.  They faced great odds, survived unexpected perils.  But then they became too comfortable, and complacency set in.  What had been a clear vision became clouded and very short-sighted.

And so it is with those who may become too comfortable and complacent in their Christian faith.  They may lose sight of what lies ahead for all of humanity.  Why go out trying to find the lost when we are safe here, saved by our belief?  When we maintain a clear vision of what we can do in Christ, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.


Now, earlier I said I wanted to look at the Apostle Paul and his conversion to Christianity, but our scripture reading was all about someone named “Saul”.  Were these two different people?  Is “Paul” the name Jesus gave Saul when He converted him, kind of like Jesus called Simon “Peter”?  Well, no, not really, to both questions.  Paul and Saul are the same person, and really the same name.

Paul was born in Tarsus, a Roman city, making him a Roman citizen by birth, but to Jewish parents, making him a Jew.  So “Paul” was his Latin name while “Saul” was his Jewish name.  The names were interchangeable, and he wasn’t called “Paul” in our Bible until the 13th chapter of Acts when he was on the isle of Cyprus.

Saul was also a Pharisee, doing what he thought was his best in service to God.  You may recall it was Saul who held the coats of the Jews as they stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  And then he set about persecuting the church, arresting believers and bringing them to trial, seeing them sent off to prison.  After His crucifixion, Christ's followers scattered throughout Judea and Samaria out of fear, and Saul chased after them.

It was while he was on one such mission that our story takes place.  Saul and some companions were headed to Damascus, looking for Christians to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem for trial.  Suddenly, he was struck blind by a great light from above and the voice of Jesus spoke to him in his blindness.

A couple of interesting points about that conversation…  First is that Saul recognized a greater power at work and addressed the voice as “Lord”.  And second is that Saul accepted the voice to be that of Jesus and effectively surrendered to Him, asking, “What do You want me to do?”.

The men who were with Saul heard the voice, but saw no one there.  We can only imagine what they must have been thinking.  They led the now blinded Saul on into Damascus, where he stayed three days with eating or drinking.

Then Jesus spoke to a local believer by the name of Ananias and told him to go to Saul and give him back his sight, for Saul had been shown in a vision that this would happen.  Now Saul's reputation was well known, and feared.  So it took great faith and obedience for Ananias to go to Saul rather than try to hide from him.  I believe the clincher had to have been when Jesus said that Saul “is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel”.

So Ananias went to Saul and did as he was told.  And immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again.


It shouldn’t take a lot of insight to realize that Paul’s blindness was not merely physical.  Yes, he was blinded by a great light there on that dusty road, leaving him unable to see anything.  But he was blind to the truth long before that.

He was a good Pharisee, doing everything he could, everything he thought was right, to serve God.  He was blinded to the truth by his teachings and the corruption of the Law by the Jewish religious leaders.  Scales covered his mind’s eyes, his heart’s eyes, blinding him to what God really wanted of him.  He couldn’t see the truth when it was standing right before his eyes.

There’s a proverb that says, “There are none so blind as those who will not see".  That old saying is based on a warning spoken by God through His prophet Jeremiah, as recorded in the 5th chapter of the book bearing his name, verses 20 through 24…
20 Declare this in the house of Jacob;
proclaim it in Judah:
21 “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes, but see not,
who have ears, but hear not.
22 Do you not fear me? declares the Lord.
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea,
a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
though the waves toss, they cannot prevail;
though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
23 But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
they have turned aside and gone away.
24 They do not say in their hearts,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives the rain in its season,
the autumn rain and the spring rain,
and keeps for us
the weeks appointed for the harvest.’"
--Jeremiah 5:20-24 (ESV)

The most deluded people are those who ignore what they already know.  All the signs of God’s existence and mighty power have been there all along and yet too many people refuse to believe.  Too many are still blind to the truth.  O Father, may the scales fall from their eyes.


Family, sometimes we let our own sight become clouded.  Sometimes we become too comfortable and forget that Jesus gave us a job to do.  And sometimes, like Paul, we may have to suffer for Jesus’ name’s sake.  We don’t want to suffer, and we don’t want to get uncomfortable, so maybe we turn a blind eye to what needs to be done.

We are chosen vessels of Christ Jesus, chosen to carry his name before the whole world, to the mighty and the lowly alike, and even to the children of Israel.  We need to open our eyes to the truth.  There are many evils at work right now, pulling the world apart, tearing at the church, striving to destroy anything that is good.  There is much we can do in service to Jesus.  The opportunities are great and varied.

May the scales fall from our eyes so that we can see how best to serve our Lord.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, so long ago You warned Your chosen people and us about not seeing the truth.  You have made Yourself and Your power known from the very creation of all existence, yet so many refuse to see.  Your truth is in Your word in our Bible, but so many refuse to believe.  Thank You, Father, for lifting the scales from our eyes that we might see and believe.  Father, sometimes even we who follow Your Son get too comfortable in our own little world and don’t want to have to work or suffer.  Sometimes we just become blinded by all the evil that is going on around us, numbed by the constant barrage.  Forgive us, Father, for the times we don’t want to see the truth.  Forgive us when we hesitate to act on the side of righteousness.  Please help us be better servants.  And Father, please help us remain strong, faithful, and true through all that we face in this age.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more obedient to Your commands, and seeking Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You knew what was in store for Paul, and how You could use him to build Your church and get it started.  And You knew how much he would have to suffer while serving You.  Thank You, Lord, for showing us that even someone who persecuted You most of his life could be changed in an instant into Your most faithful servant.  Please, Lord, forgive us when we hesitate to do as You command us, either out of fear of suffering like Paul or from an unwillingness to step out of our personal comfort zone.  Help us see what it is You have in store for us.  Remind us of our promise to serve You.  Show us how we can best carry Your name to the world.  And Lord Jesus, please heal the hurts that separate and divide us.  Help us remain trusting and obedient no matter what we go through.  Help us keep our focus on the things of heaven and the needs of others rather than on what this life might offer.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

We Are Witnesses

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on the second Sunday of Easter, the 24th of April, 2022, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our YouTube streaming channel is: 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.]


Family, today is the first Sunday after Easter, but let’s step back in time to that very first Easter nearly 2000 years ago.  Each of the four Gospel writers records the events of this day from a slightly different angle, giving us a fuller picture of all that happened.

Early in the dawning hour, the women went to the tomb and found it empty.  They ran back to tell the disciples what they had seen, a few of whom also went to look and verified what the women had said.  A little later in the day, while the disciples were hiding behind closed and locked doors, Jesus suddenly appeared to them, too.

At this point, the resurrected Jesus has been witnessed by the women who had followed Him from Galilee and by most of the disciples.  According to John’s account, Thomas hasn’t yet seen Jesus again, but the other ten have along with many other followers who had not yet fled Jerusalem.

But there is another appearance noted, and this time by two who had left the city in fear for their own lives.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Luke recorded for us in chapter 24 of his Gospel account, verses 13 through 53, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation of our Holy Bible…
13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus Himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing Him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the Man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him. 21 We had hoped He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of His followers were at His tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said His body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, His body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if He were going on, 29 but they begged Him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So He went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat, He took the bread and blessed it. Then He broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And at that moment He disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized Him as He was breaking the bread. 36 And just as they were telling about it, Jesus Himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” He said. 37 But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

38 “Why are you frightened?” He asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? 39 Look at My hands. Look at My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” 40 As He spoke, He showed them His hands and His feet.

41 Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and He ate it as they watched.

44 Then He said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 And He said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. 47 It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ 48 You are witnesses of all these things.

49 “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as My Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”

50 Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting His hands to heaven, He blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up to heaven. 52 So they worshiped Him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. 53 And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.
--Luke 24:13-53 (NLT)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us the gift of faith so that we might believe.  We believe in You as the one true God, all mighty, all powerful, Creator of all there is.  And we believe in Jesus Christ, that You sent Him to us as Your Messiah, our Christ, who came to us in the darkness of our sin to offer us salvation.  Thank You Father for showing us such mercy and grace and love.  Forgive us, please, when we fail to share how much this all means to us with others we encounter.  Please help us be braver, more courageous in witnessing to Jesus.  Help us openly and willingly tell how much He has done for us, and what He can do for others.  And Father, please protect us from Satan and from those who do his bidding.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and one purpose in our love, worship, and service, and healthy and safe through these trying 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.  We see You in everything we do, we feel You every second.  Help us share this with those who need to hear the truth.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Thomas Henry Huxley, a well-known agnostic, was with a group of men at a weekend house party.  On Sunday morning, while most of them were preparing to go to church, he approached a man known for his Christian character and said, "Suppose you stay at home and tell my why you are a Christian."  The man, knowing he couldn't match wits with Huxley, hesitated.  But the agnostic said gently, "I don't want to argue with you.  I just want you to tell me simply what this Christ means to you."  The man did, and when he finished, there were tears in Huxley's eyes as he said, "I would give my right hand if only I could believe that!"


This is the kind of witness Jesus asks of us.  No fancy elocution, no well-rehearsed speech.  Just telling our own story of what Jesus means to us, of what being a Christian means to us.

We’re not all preachers, nor public speakers, nor great orators, but we do all have a ministry, we who call ourselves Christians.  Jesus gave us that ministry, that mission to tell all the world about Him.  Nothing fancy, no five-dollar words needed, just simply what this Christ means to us.


Our scripture reading this morning was long, but I think it covered some points that are very important for us to consider.  We start out with two of the disciples who had fled Jerusalem after Jesus’ crucifixion and were headed to the town of Emmaus.  We’re only given the name of one – Cleopas – so we know that these were not two of the eleven remaining of the twelve that Jesus personally chose.

So they’re walking along, sad and downcast, discussing the recent events, when Jesus came up and joined them, although they were not able to recognize Him.  Jesus asks what they’re talking about, why they’re so glum, and they tell Him everything that has happened, including how the women found the tomb empty.

I can just imagine that Jesus shook His head before asking, “Why do you people find it so hard to believe everything that the scriptures and the prophets said about the Messiah, about how He would have to suffer and die, and then rise from the grave on the third day?”  So He proceeded to tell them everything contained in the scriptures about Him, scriptures they should have known since these would have been Jewish men.

They knew all this, they just didn’t believe it.  In their heart of hearts, they just could not believe that Jesus was truly the Messiah as foretold by their own prophets.  So effectively, Jesus had to witness to Himself.  And then their eyes were opened and they recognized their Lord before them, and He immediately vanished from view.


Now even though it was late, and even though they might be heading to their own arrest, the two rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the other followers that they had seen and talked with the risen Jesus.  When they arrived, they were told that Peter had already seen Jesus, so they shared their story with the group.  And as they were telling what had happened, who should suddenly join them again but Jesus, who suddenly appeared in the closed room with the disciples.

Rather than being elated and excited, they were startled and frightened, like they had seen a ghost.  And again, it’s because they just couldn’t believe everything that had been foretold about the Messiah.  That, or they didn’t really accept that Jesus was the Messiah.  So again He had to witness for Himself.

“Look at my hands, my feet, that were pierced by the nails.  Touch me – am I not of flesh again?  When I was with you, I explained how everything written by the prophets regarding the Messiah, everything in the Law of Moses, everything in the Psalms must be fulfilled, and you can see it now fulfilled in Me.”

Then Jesus gives us a prelude of our mission when He notes that the scriptures also say that this message must be proclaimed in His name to all nations, to all people, starting in Jerusalem, that “there is forgiveness of sins for all who repent”.  And He adds, “You are witnesses of all these things.”

Those followers gathered there that day had walked with Jesus and witnessed the miracles He performed.  They witnessed His betrayal and execution.  And now they were witnessing His resurrection, there in the flesh before them.  “You have been told, you have witnessed, now go tell the world.”


Remember earlier I said that on the day of His resurrection, Jesus appeared to almost all of the disciples while they were still in hiding, but that Thomas wasn’t there that day?  Because he wasn’t there to see Jesus with his own eyes, he didn’t believe them when the rest said that Jesus lives again.  Which is how we got that nickname we attach to people when they don’t believe testimony someone gives – we call them a “Doubting Thomas”.

Well, Thomas got his chance after all.  Listen to what the Apostle John reported in chapter 20 of his Gospel account, verses 24 through 31…
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
--John 20:24-31 (NKJV)

Thomas finally got the chance, like all the rest, to see the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, to touch His wounds, hear His voice, feel His love.  So he believed, just as all the rest.  But none of them really believed until they saw Jesus with their own eyes.  None of them fully trusted in the scriptures, or truly understood that Jesus was the Christ, not until He showed them.

Where does that leave everyone else?  What about all the people back then who didn’t see any of this, or all the people since that time who have not been fortunate enough to experience Jesus, the risen Jesus in the flesh?

Jesus answered that earlier, when He was talking to His Father God in prayer.  We looked at that a few weeks ago, in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel account.  Jesus prayed for His disciples, His apostles of that day, and He prayed for all of those who would come to believe because of the words spoken by those apostles.  He prayed for us, we who believe because of those words saved in our Holy Bible.

And then Jesus blesses us for our belief, even though we have not seen Him, either while performing all those miracles or after His death and resurrection.  We have not seen Jesus with our eyes, but we see Him clearly in our hearts.

We are witnesses.  And it’s up to us to proclaim to the world that there is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.  This is our mission: to tell the world all about Jesus.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be eloquent, it just needs to be heartfelt.  We just need to tell others what it means to us to be a Christian, what Jesus has done for us, what He means to us.

Let’s be witnesses for our Lord.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, the universe bears witness to You.  Your eternal power and divine nature have been clearly visible since the creation of the world in the things that have been made.  We are witnesses to this, and to Your glory every single day.  Thank You, Father, for giving us this beautiful garden to live in.  And especially we thank You for the gift of faith so that we can believe, even in what we have not seen.  Father, sometimes we fail to be a good witness of all the wonders You’ve shown us.  We don’t take the time, or we’re too timid to share with others.  Sometimes we just worry that we won’t get the words right and say the wrong thing.  Forgive us, Father, for the times we don’t give You all the glory.  Forgive us when we hesitate to share our faith and belief with others.  Please help us be better servants.  And Father, please help us remain strong, faithful, and true through all that we face in this age.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more obedient to Your commands, and seeking Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, there was a time when You had to be a witness for Yourself, to remind others everything that had been foretold of the Messiah’s fate, and to show them how You fulfilled the prophesy of God’s Christ.  Even those who followed You struggled to understand, struggled to believe that You were, indeed, the Christ.  Thank You, Lord, for showing them the truth so that they in turn could influence so many others to come to believe, including us today.  And thank You for allowing us to carry on the work You began on earth.  Please, Lord, forgive us when we don’t enthusiastically do as You command.  Help us get put aside any doubts and fears and start spreading the Good News of salvation that comes only through You, and by this, show them Your love.  Remind us that this is the job You gave us.  Show us the lost that we might help them be saved.  And Jesus, please strengthen us through these very difficult times.  Heal the hurts that separate and divide us.  Help us remain trusting and obedient no matter what we go through.  Help us keep our focus on the things of heaven and the needs of others rather than on what this life might offer.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, April 17, 2022

Our Promise

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Easter Sunday, the 17th of April, 2022, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Today's service also included an infant baptism and our observance of Holy Communion with our Lord.  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.]


Today is one of the two most joyful and glorious days on our Christian calendar, and not only because we baptized little Jordy.  One of those two days is when God’s Christ was sent to earth, when our Lord Jesus was born.  And the second is when He was raised from the dead.

I put those two on an equal basis because they are both critically important to all mankind, whether everyone believes it or not.  Had the Christ not been sent to us, we would have no hope whatsoever and would all die in our sin.  Had God not bodily raised Jesus from the grave, then we couldn’t really believe much of anything He said, including the promise of our own resurrection.  But because Christ came and was given eternal life, and because we believe what we have not seen, our promise, our only hope, is secure.

Not everyone believes in the resurrection of the body, though, or in life eternal (either in heaven or especially in the lake of fire).  The Sadducees in particular denied that the soul is immortal and that the body could be resurrected after death.  The seed of doubt was even planted and began to take root in the early church, among those who had not witnessed Jesus alive in the flesh after His crucifixion but before His ascension.  Some in the church in Corinth had concerns, questions, doubts, about this whole resurrection thing.  The Apostle Paul was quick to address those concerns.

Please listen and follow along as Paul expounds upon the basis of our belief, from chapter 15 of his letter to the Corinthians, verses 35 through 58, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
35 Someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain — perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.

40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a hidden truth: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

55 “O Death, where is your sting?
Hades, where is your victory?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
--1 Corinthians 15:35-58 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for raising Jesus from the dead, and in this giving us the promise of our own resurrection.  Jesus conquered death so that we may conquer it too, to be raised to a new body and life eternal.  Thank You Father for keeping Your promise to resurrect Your Son so that we can rest assured in Your promise to us.  Forgive us, please, when we fail or hesitate to share this wonderful news with those who most need to hear it, who refuse to believe what they hear.  Please help us be more mindful of our commission to spread the Gospel.  And help us remember how You kept every promise You ever made, how You did everything You ever said You’d do.  Help us rest on Your promises.  And Father, please protect us from Satan and from those who carry out his evil works.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and one purpose in our love, worship, and service, and healthy and safe through these trying 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.  This we pray in the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Booker T. Washington described meeting an ex-slave from Virginia in his book Up From Slavery
I found that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect that the slave was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself, he was to be permitted to labor where and for whom he pleased.

Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there.  When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three hundred dollars.  Notwithstanding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last dollar, with interest, in his hands.

In talking to me about this, the man told me that he knew that he did not have to pay his debt, but that he had given his word to his master, and his word he had never broken.  He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom until he had fulfilled his promise.


We owe a debt to Jesus that we could never repay.  So we place ourselves in servitude to Him, in slavery to Him, and call Him our Master.  We pledge to follow Him and do as He commands.  Even though He has freed us from the tyranny of death and sin, we have promised to serve Him through our love to others, sharing the Good News of salvation with those of this world who do not know or do not believe.

How well do we fulfill our promise?


What will we look like when we are resurrected?  Which me will be brought back: the old me, the young and strong me, the me like when I died, the me as I see myself in my head?  I’ve been asked this question before, and my response is, “the you as Jesus sees you”.  I believe Paul gives a far better answer.  The me that returns to life will be the incarnation of the spiritual me.  It will be a different me, but still me.

I know…  that sounds confusing.  Let’s use Paul’s example.  When I plant a tomato seed, another tomato seed doesn’t come up out of the ground.  No, a plant that will bear tomatoes comes forth.  The same for a kernel of corn: it doesn’t result in another kernel, but in a stalk from which grow ears of corn.

What we are now is a physical form that will produce a spiritual form when brought back to live again.  The new form will be much greater but still similar to the old form.  For one thing, the new form will no longer be corruptible, it won’t wear out and die, it won’t rot.

And of course Paul uses the example of Jesus, who lived among us as a flesh and blood man but was resurrected to the spiritual Man that returned to heaven and His Father God.  This physical body is corruptible, sinful, weak, dishonorable in the eyes of our Lord.  Before we can enter God’s kingdom, the corruptible must be made incorruptible, the mortal made immortal, the physical made spiritual.  This is our promise, made to us by God, reinforced through the example made of His own Son Jesus.


Paul isn’t our only source of information in our Bible regarding the resurrection.  The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the body, tried to trip up Jesus with a contrived question about what would happen to a woman who had married seven brothers.  Jesus’ response surprised them.

Listen to what the Apostle Matthew recorded of this conversation, in the 22nd chapter of his Gospel account, verses 23 through 33…
23 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked Him, 24 saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
--Matthew 22:23-33 (NKJV)

Jesus doesn’t go into near as much detail as Paul does, but He does confirm that our resurrected self will be different, more like the angels in God’s heaven, themselves spiritual beings.  And then He lets the Sadducees know that they are wrong in their thinking, since they believe the dead simply stay dead.  Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living!  We will be brought back to life, incorruptible life, because God is the God of the living!


Family, this is our promise, that God will resurrect us from the dead and give us new bodies that will never age and never die.  He showed us this through the resurrection of His own Son, and He gives us a preview of what this will be like in our daily lives.

A seed, when it dies and is planted, will bring forth a marvelous new and better form of itself.  The earth, though it seems to die in winter, opens up to new and renewed life each spring.  A little baby will share the attributes and make-up of both its parents, yet will be a different creation, with its own personality, its own future, its own capabilities and talents.


Now we need to be a little careful here, because it’s not only believers that will be resurrected at the last.  Remember that in the Revelation of Christ, our Bible tells us that at the end of the age, all graves will be opened and the earth and the seas will give up their dead, and all will be judged.  The sheep will be separated from the goats, the believers from the non-believers, with the believers living eternity in paradise while the non-believers burn forever in the lake of fire.

Believers can echo Paul when in verse 57 he proclaims, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.  We just need to follow his final instruction in verse 58, when he tells us to, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord”.

Our promise is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Blessed be that holy name, the name of Jesus.


In just a few moments we will come to the table of our Lord to share His last meal with Him.  The Apostle Paul warns that we must be right with God before doing so.  Otherwise, we share the guilt of His execution, of His death, with those who committed the act.

Now is the time to get right with God.  If you are feeling convicted by the Holy Spirit, if you are weighed down by the guilt of your disobedience, if you are holding a grudge against a fellow believer, if there is anything in your life that God would see as sinful, lay it all at the foot of our Lord’s cross, repent, and seek forgiveness.  Get right with God.

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


Let us pray…  Father God, You promised that through our belief in Your Son Jesus we would have everlasting life.  Since our mortal body cannot live forever, You will give us a new body, one that will not die.  You showed this through the resurrection of Jesus, and we know You always do as You promise.  Thank You, Father, for being our living God, the God of the living.  Father, sometimes we just can’t see far enough to understand the workings of Your plan.  Sometimes we cannot fully grasp the ultimate power You wield, that You truly can do anything You will.  Forgive us, Father, when we harbor little doubts.  Forgive us when we hesitate to defend You and Your promises to those who refuse to believe, who scoff at You and Your plan of salvation.  Please help us be strong and fearless, yet humble servants in all we do.  And Father, please help us remain strong, faithful, and true through all that we face in this age.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You through Your Spirit within us, promising to be more obedient to Your commands, and seeking Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, some sweet day You will return and we will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye, those still alive at the time and those sleeping in their grave.  We will be given new bodies that will not die.  And by accepting You as our Master, we will spend eternity in those new bodies in paradise with You and our Father God.  This is our promise and in this we place all our hope.  Thank You, Lord, for washing us clean with Your blood.  Thank You for accepting us as Your own.  Please, Lord, forgive us when we don’t follow Your commands as You would have us do.  Remind us that if not for You we could never again be reunited with our Father God.  Show us how we can be more steadfast, immovable, and abounding in Your work.  And Jesus, please strengthen us through these very difficult times.  Heal the hurts that separate and divide us.  Help us remain trusting and obedient no matter what we go through.  Help us keep our focus on the things of heaven and the needs of others rather than on what this life might offer.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.