Giving Thanks

“Giving Thanks”

A Devotion by Joe G

11/23/2022

1 Thessalonians 5:18; Colossians 3:17; 1Chronicles 16:34

It’s that time of year again. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. In just a few hours, stoves will be cooking turkeys, mixers will be mashing potatoes, and sweet potatoes will be prepared just the way you like them. Of course, let’s not forget the stuffing, the green bean casserole (sorry, not a fan), and the eggnog. And, of course, dinner would not be complete without some homemade pumpkin pie (although some of you will be eating store-bought – not me!)

You all know the history of Thanksgiving in one form or another. The idea was to give thanks to God for the harvest. Thanksgiving Day is a time of families sitting together and sharing a meal, memories, hopes, and dreams.

Let’s stop a moment right here. What are you thankful for? Are you thankful for your family, employment, a roof over your head, or perhaps the meal that will sit before you tomorrow? Maybe, you’re grateful for all of the above.

All of the things, and more, I just mentioned are all things we should be thankful for.

Although, I do believe I missed a couple of things.

*************************Here’s the Point***********************

What did I miss in my list of things we might be thankful for? Over many years of living and hosting or joining others at their homes for Thanksgiving Day, prayer for our bounty has often been missing. All of the things you and I are thankful for this year should be said aloud as we praise God for His many blessing. Those blessings include food, family, friends, jobs, health, and much more.

There is something or someone else I purposely neglected to mention earlier. Jesus. At every meal, especially Thanksgiving, we may have an audience of non-believers, and we are thankful in words and prayer for all we have. Thank God for sending His Son Jesus to us.

Our Faith in Jesus should be our number one thing to be thankful for. God sent His Son, Jesus, to save you and me from sin and eternal punishment. What an excellent time to profess our faith, love, and belief in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, than at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Tomorrow, celebrate. There’s plenty of time for family, food, fellowship, and don’t forget football. 😊

But, make Jesus number one as you give thanks. Because of His love for us, we may now live forever. Amen

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

Endowed with gifts, to do His work

A Devotion by Joe G

November 20, 2022

“Endowed with gifts, to do His work.”

Ephesians 2:10; John 13:34-35

For those of you who don’t live in Florida, the photo above is a night-time rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center. I’m very blessed, as I only have to walk out the door of my home to see, hear and experience a rocket launch. Oh, and yes, I did take the photo from my driveway.

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. It’s only been a little over 60 years that we’ve been sending men and women into space. I remember watching the Apollo astronauts landing on the moon in 1969, then the first Space Shuttle launch and landing. Now we’re working toward colonizing the moon and beyond.

This isn’t science fiction; this is real. It takes thousands of men and women working together and using their gifts to accomplish the common goal of space flight and exploration. And, as the fictional captain of the Star Ship Enterprise would say, “To Go where no (man) one has gone before.”

********************* Here’s the Point*********************

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

One could argue whether space exploration is something God wants us to do. And whether those who work together as a launch team have been endowed with God-given gifts to accomplish just that.

If you read stories from our country’s history, it seems we have always had inquiring minds as a nation and a world. We ask the questions: why, how, where, and what if, quite often. So, does space exploration fall into those asked questions? I believe it does.

But space exploration is but a small part of the good works we were prepared by God to do.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

With our God-given spiritual life, we respond to God’s love through praise, worship, and good works. Doing good works for others shows appreciation for all God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The best part of the good works we do in Christ’s name is that we do them out of love, not for salvation. Salvation has already been taken care of with Christ’s death and resurrection. No amount of good works can save us, so boasting about doing good is not only not helpful, but it is admonished by God.

Jesus said:

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If we love one another, we should also do good work for one another. For example, helping a friend, sharing a meal with someone, listening to another’s problems, giving to the less fortunate, and putting others’ needs before our own. These are all good works we can and should do in Christ’s name to help others as we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Jesus. You have set an example for everyone to do good work for others. Help us to follow in your footsteps as we listen, support, and help others, so we, like You, may be a servant to all.

It’s not about what you do but what He did for you!

A Devotion by Joe G

It’s not about what you do but what He did for you!

Romans 10:9-13; John 3:16-17

November 11, 2022

We live in an interesting society. So many things we want are directly tied to physically doing something.

“Study hard, so you can get into college.” “Do all your chores daily, and I’ll give you a weekly allowance of $20.” “If you’re a good boy/girl and listen to grandma while I go shopping, I’ll take you for ice cream later.” “Go and clean your room and then you can watch T.V. (Or use your cell phone).

We hear it from our parents, as well as at the workplace. “Work hard, show up early, leave late, and you’ll get promoted someday.” It’s always about us doing something to achieve a goal or receive something that we want.

Having some parameters to work within isn’t the worst thing in the world. We need rules to live by and set goals to attain. Without rules, we live in chaos. And without set goals to strive for, life is just that, life; it’s not living.

Believing in God and receiving eternal life with Him is not tied to what we do but to what He did.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>The Point<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Unlike in our own lives, when it comes to salvation, it’s not about us; it’s about God and what He did for us. Read the words of the Apostle Paul:

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 10:11 Isaiah 28:16 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13

Being saved and receiving eternal life is not something we do or earn. Instead, it’s you and I confessing and believing that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. He sacrificed his life for ours. He paid our debt of sin by dying on the cross.

Then Jesus rose from the dead. He overcame death, guaranteeing that we, too, shall be saved. How? As I’ve said many times before. By Grace (God’s perfect love for us) through Faith (You and I believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins.)

You’re not alone if, at times, this is hard to accept. But it’s true.

“God has already done what is needed to secure righteousness (He sent His Son as a living sacrifice.); all that we are required to do is believe.”

And as they say in so many infomercials on television, “But wait, there’s more!”

Paul relates an essential point in this passage.

Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 10:11 Isaiah 28:16 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:11-13

Paul is precise in this section of the passage. God’s grace and mercy are available to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, what nationality you are or what religion you are.

To receive God’s gift of grace and eternal life, all we have to do is believe in God’s fulfilled promise. He sent His Son, Jesus, for us. And all you/we have to do is believe.

Of course, passing on this Good News to others doesn’t hurt. But that is for another day’s devotion. So, for now, remember and live out these words spoken by Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17

Making God a Priority

A Devotion by Joe G

“Making God a priority by carving time out of our day to spend with God in Prayer, devotion, and in the Word.”

November 7, 2022

Why is it important to make God a priority during our day by spending time with him in word and prayer?

Let me take you back some years ago when I used to listen to many motivational tapes. (Yes, I said tape, they were cassettes)

I’d listened to speakers like Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, and Lee Iacocca.

Lee Iacocca was the former president of Ford Motor Company. He joined Ford in 1946 and was very influential in developing the Ford Mustang in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, Lee Iacocca became the CEO of Chrysler, bringing the company back from bankruptcy.

To this day, I still remember something he said that changed his life. So, I’ve tried to emulate it in my own.

Lee said this:

God comes 1st, Family comes 2nd, Work comes 3rd, Friends come 4th, and everything else comes after that.

Lee Iacocca said that everything in his life changed when he adopted this philosophy. On the negative side, he lost many of his so-called friends because they were no longer his top priority.

Let’s take a moment to break these priorities down:

God comes first. This means your personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior come first. That’s why it’s so important to spend time in prayer and devotion with Him.

Pastor Robert Morris said: “You’ll never be able to put God first in areas of your life if you don’t put prayer first. The power to put God first comes from prayer.”

Prayer is our time with God. It should be a conversation with your best friend. The more we talk to God through prayer, the closer we are to him.

Even Jesus took time out to pray to God the Father.

The list continues with Family as the second item. No, we don’t leave our Family in the dust behind God. Remember, God coming first is about your relationship with Him.

Our relationship with our Family needs to be strong, loving, nurturing, and caring. We don’t stop doing for and loving our Family because God comes first.

Just remember, God is our creator, Jesus is our Savior, and someday we will go home to be with God. So why wouldn’t He be our priority?

Here comes the hard one. Work comes third. While working in the retail food industry for years, my Work came first. I worked long, demanding hours, and my Family and God were left far behind.

If we put Work ahead of God and our Family, perhaps it’s time to reassess our priorities and re-evaluate our jobs.

I have some friends who have two children, a son and a daughter. Both of the kids were in my youth group. The young man is now in his second year of college, and their daughter is in high school. Their support for their kids is phenomenal. They plan a dad/son and a mom/daughter trip each year and are involved in many of their kids’ school and extra-curricular activities. Yet, they maintain an outstanding balance of church, love of God, work, Family, and friends. Oh, and by the way, their daughter self-published two children’s books before she even got to high school.

The fourth item on the list I just mentioned is that friends come fourth.

Time and relationships with friends come after God, Family, and Work.

What’s left? Everything else, and it all comes after the first four.

Give it a try! Take time to prioritize what should be important in your life.

It won’t be perfect. Sometimes your job will demand you’re there and not at your kids’ ballgame. That’s ok. Do the best you can. But strive every day to do better. God, Family, Work, Friends, and everything else.

Let’s circle back to prayer, devotions, and reading the Bible.

Where, during your day, do or can you make time for God? Even Jesus took time to go off by himself and pray.

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

One of those days, Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

And from there, Jesus taught His disciples what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

I realize that everyone’s schedule is different. Can you take ten minutes to read a Bible verse and pray before Work? After Work? How about before bed? What does your lunch hour look like? How about listening to Christian Radio or soothing background music and praying in your car?

I’m retired, so I get up pretty early every day. I make coffee, grab my cup of morning Joe and my cell phone, and I go into my home office and spend an hour or so in prayer and reading devotions and the Bible. My wife and I pray at every meal, including when we go out (Let the people stare. You’re conversing with your creator.) I also pray short prayers throughout the day, asking God for help where I need it and thanking Him for His many blessings and what He wants me to do for Him.

Take a few minutes today and ask God when a good time is to spend with Him each day. Do you have a quiet spot at home, or maybe your car is the place for you? I sometimes go to Starbucks and read and pray. I have a friend that goes to the beach every Friday and does the same thing.

Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 6 about Location and how you should pray:

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

About now, you’re saying to yourself, that’s a lot of stuff to digest and process, Joe. And you’re exactly right. So that’s why it’s that time for me to hit the pause button.

One last thing. Here’s something to think about. How should I pray? What do I talk to God about? Are there prayer rules?

Please join me in prayer.

Dear Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to prioritize and find time to spend with you in prayer and in the word. Please, help us to find that time. Please help us to make you and our relationship with you a priority. Thank you for your many blessings Lord, especially the gift of your Son Jesus, who saved us from sin through His death on the cross.

Amen

Have a Blessed day!

Are you being served or serving?

A devotion by Joe G

Matthew 20:28; John 13:13-17; Philippians 2:3-5

Are you being served or serving?

My favorite part of being in Ministry is serving others. Over my many years in youth ministry, my students served the church and community in many ways.

Here’s just a sampling of the different ways my students served. My students delivered food baskets to the needy, handed out “Street Eats” bags to the less fortunate, and delivered toys to disadvantaged children at Christmas. They mowed lawns and did yard work. They also painted houses, and as I’ve mentioned before in an earlier devotion, they held doors open for the group and others as we entered and exited retail establishments.

Finally, on several occasions, as part of a Bible study, they washed each other’s feet.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Here’s the Point<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Jesus showed us many examples of serving others during His Ministry on earth. He even told His disciples,

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

In the passage above from Matthew 20:28, Jesus clearly tells His disciples what His purpose on earth is. He was sent by the Father to serve others and give up His life for the world’s sins.

In the Gospel of John 13, Jesus sets an example for His disciples by washing their feet. Jesus gets up from the table (The Last Supper), gets on His knees, and washes each of His disciples’ feet. Why?

It’s an example of how you and I should serve others. Here’s what Jesus said to His disciples after He washed their feet:

“Do you understand what I have just done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right because that is what I am. If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, a servant is not greater than his master. A messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:13-17

Jesus was telling His disciples to put others first. He told them to do as He had done and live a life of service to others.

All those things I mentioned earlier that my students had done for the church and the community were acts of service. This is what you and I are called by our Savior Jesus Christ to do, serve others. Put others’ needs above your own. We can call ourselves disciples only by emulating Jesus’ words and actions.

How can you better serve like Jesus?

Volunteering in your community. Local organizations such as food banks, soup kitchens, and your own church always need volunteers.

Make others more significant than yourself. When was the last time you held a door open for someone or gave a few dollars to a homeless person?

Take time to pray for direction and listen to God. Where and how does God want you to serve others.

Make serving others not something you occasionally do; instead, make it part of your daily life. Put others before your needs and wants the way Christ came to serve rather than be served. Amen.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 2:3-5

Hearing and Believing

A Devotion by Joe G

“Hearing and Believing”

John 5:24-25

One of my favorite movie series of all time is the Indiana Jones franchise. Surviving one danger after another, Indiana Jones always saves the day and finds a rare artifact like The Ark of the Covenant.

In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” he needs to cross a vast chasm to recover the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ from the Last Supper, to heal his Father, who had been shot,

“Impossible,” he mutters to himself. “Nobody can jump this.”

He recalls the cryptic instructions his Father gave him for passing this obstacle: Only with a leap from the lion’s head (which is carved near the brink where he stands) can he prove his worth.

Indiana gazes uncertainly at the gap between himself and the far end of the chasm. Outside of the temple, his wounded Father gasps with what may well be his dying breath, “You must believe, boy. You must believe.”

Indy can shy away from the challenge, but that will cost him dearly. Only with the Grail’s power can he save his Father, and only by taking a literal leap of Faith can he advance.

. . Indy alights on a hidden bridge, perfectly sculpted and fashioned to blend in with the rock of the chasm.

https://www.ryankunz.com/blog/2018/4/27/a-leap-from-the-lions-head

Yes! Indiana Jones saves the day. He crosses the bridge, retrieves the Cup of Christ, and saves his Father.

A fictional character named Indiana Jones needed to have Faith to save his wounded Father. Interestingly enough, we, too, need to have Faith, so we can be saved.

**********************The Point********************

In the Gospel of John chapter 5, Jesus says:

 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly, I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”             

John 5:24-25

It’s almost too simple to say, yet so often difficult to do. Jesus is telling us that His words are God’s words. If we believe that God the Father sent His only Son, Jesus, and listen to and believe in Him and what He says, we are saved.

And when Jesus says,

Very truly, I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,”

Jesus is reiterating His point from verse 4. We are spiritually dead until we listen to His words and believe.          

Perhaps that’s a bit wordy for you. So, let me say it with 4 letters and 4 words I learned from my friend Bob Lenz.

B.G.T.F.

By Grace Through Faith. That’s it! Four letters and four words. We are saved by God’s Grace. Here’s how the Oxford dictionary describes Christian Grace:

“The free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

That is not too bad a definition. God gives us His undeserved love not because of what we do but because of what He (Jesus) did. I know this next question is a bit redundant, but what did Jesus do?

He came to earth, born of a virgin mother. He lived a perfect life here on earth for about 33 years. During that time, He taught the word of God, healed countless people, admonished sinners, and helped all who asked for it. Then, finally, He was arrested, tortured, and died on the cross for our sins.

Right there. That’s what we need to have Faith in. God loves us unconditionally because, His Son, Jesus, completed His mission. He was sent to earth to die for our sins. By Grace, Through Faith. God’s Grace and our Faith in what Jesus did for humanity.

Indiana Jones took a leap of Faith to save His Father.

God the Father sent His Son to us to teach, guide, heal and sacrifice Himself for us. All we need to do is have Faith and believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.

Should we change our lifestyle and try and emulate Jesus? Yes! Should we share the story of what God and His Son did for us? Yes!

Always remember: By Grace, Through Faith, we are saved. Amen.

Putting Others First

A Devotion by Joe G

Putting others first

Philippians 2:3

There’s a story I like to share (I’ve shared it in devotions before, as well as my book, “Adventures in Youth Ministry”) that epitomizes being a servant and putting others before yourself.

One Sunday evening during youth group, I handed out paper and pens to each student. First, I asked them to write down one or two ways we could serve others in our community. Then, after a few minutes, I asked each of them to share what they had written.

Several had difficulty coming up with an idea, or at least a new one. The group already delivered bags of groceries to needy families monthly. And during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, they provided between 70 and 80 bags of groceries.

The students also filled gallon-size plastic bags with food to hand out to needy people; our congregation met along the road of life (Street Eats). They also helped at congregational dinners. I could go on and on.

Let’s get back to Sunday and the aforementioned youth night. One student’s answer stood out. He raised his hand and said, “We could go to the mall and open the door for people as they enter the building.” As I’ve said, several other students dismissively laughed at the idea. As for me, my mouth dropped open, and then I said, “What an awesome idea.”

I stood up and said, “Let’s do it!” (I’m not sure if my students ever got used to my spontaneity in doing things without a plan). So, the group and I jumped into the church van and drove to our local mall, just 4 blocks from our church.

I parked the van, and the group went to the mall entrance where the movie theater is. The students stood at all the doors and opened them for people coming in and out of the mall.

That’s when something amazing happened. Whenever one of my students opened the door for someone, they would say, “Have a blessed day.” In almost every case, the person entering or leaving the mall replied, “Thank You, or Thank you, you too.”

For the next few years, this door-opening endeavor grew. Everywhere the group went, several students would open the door for the rest of the group and anyone else entering or leaving a building. For example, if we went to a restaurant, they held the door open for the group and other patrons. Literally, everywhere we went, without any encouragement from me, door opening for the group and others became a servant tradition, not a chore.

…………………………The Point…………………………

2 Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves.

This passage alone is quite powerful. This was a very new idea in the first century.

Actually, the whole concept of selflessness, humility, and putting others first seems to have lost its importance once again in this day and age, hasn’t it.

Allow me to add 2 Philippians 2:4 to the mix,

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”

Now, let’s put the thoughts of the above two passages together.

Don’t be selfish, but rather be humble, putting others first. Yes, it’s okay to take care of our own interests and needs, such as work, taking care of our family, entertainment, hobbies, etc. But it’s important we also take care of the interests and needs of others.

Think about the students at the mall opening doors and exchanging greetings with others. In the busyness of our lives, many, if not most of us, would walk into the mall or any other building and not think twice about holding the door open for someone else.

Now take a moment and envision holding the door open for one person every time you walk into a building. How do you think that makes the next person feel? And how does that make you feel when they say thank you to you? It makes me think that there is still hope for humanity. It shows me that sharing human kindness with another and putting them above your own busyness or needs for a moment can bring joy to someone’s day.

This devotion isn’t about helping others. It’s about being Christ-like. Jesus stopped in the middle of a crowded street and healed a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years. Jesus healed ten lepers and preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Those mentioned above are just a few incidents where Christ put others first. He did it tirelessly 2000 years ago, and He still listens to our cries for help and makes us a priority.

Let’s all be more like Jesus. Put others’ needs before your own and show the love of Christ to everyone you meet.

Amen

Why Do We Persecute Each Other?

Daily Devotion

Why do we persecute each other?

Matthew 5:44; Acts 9:1-19; John 23:13-14; Matthew 22: 34b-40

Persecution has many names, such as: oppress, victimize, mistreat, torment, harass, intimidate, pick on, bully and hassle, just to name a few.

It’s easy to reference the Bible and read about how Jesus was persecuted for His beliefs and teachings. But what about now, what about today? Sure, people are persecuted for being Christian, gay, and even for having a particular skin color. However, each and every one of these types of persecutions is wrong.

You may have noticed I left one out, political persecution. This is because our society aligns with the left or the right. Now, look at the definitions of persecution above. Do any of the words look familiar when we speak politically about others? It’s sad but true. By the way, this type of persecution is also wrong.

But persecution was around long before we were. 2000 years ago, persecution was an everyday occurrence for a man named Jesus.

_____________________________________________________________

Why is it so difficult for us to follow those simple words from Matthew 5:44?

“But I say love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

As much as Jesus was loved by His followers, He was despised and hated by the Pharisees. Most other religious leaders of His time felt the same way. Yet, He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Let’s look at Saul, who doesn’t enter the Bible until after Jesus has died. He hated Christians and did everything he could to torment and kill them. Let’s read a portion of Acts 9, to see how Jesus turned this man’s heart.

Saul’s Conversion

“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So, he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 

“Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!  Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he was blind. So, his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, 

“Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him, so he can see again.”

“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

So, Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward, he ate some food and regained his strength.”

Over and over in the New Testament, we see moments of Christ’s forgiveness for others. In most cases, we see Jesus responding to someone asking for forgiveness or healing. However, in this instance, we see Jesus confronting someone (Saul) who is persecuting others for being Christ followers.

Although Saul is a persecutor of those who follow Christ, Jesus intervenes and softens Saul’s heart. Jesus shows us that even someone who persecutes Him can be used to advance Christ’s Kingdom and His goals.

“Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.”

The most tremendous persecution we see in the Bible is Jesus being crucified on the cross. He was sentenced to death for crimes He did not commit. Yet, even in the midst of all of the pain and suffering, He was enduring, Jesus was forgiving.

“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.John 23:13-14

Even though He was persecuted, Jesus still loves us today. The next time you think of using any of the terms I used to describe the word persecution (There are others), remember Christ’s words to the Pharisees in Matthew 22.

“The Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34b-40

Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus makes no ifs, ands, or buts about His statement. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s keep that in mind before we spew vile or demeaning language at a fellow brother or sister. Amen.

Joe G.

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

April 15, 2022

Matthew 26:38-39; John 19:16-37, Luke 23:44-45

It seems to be an unusual reference, doesn’t it? Of course, I’m talking about calling the day Jesus died on the cross Good Friday.

One dictionary etymology of the word good reads,

‘Good Friday’ comes from the obsolete sense ‘pious, holy’ of the word “good.”

So, one could say this is where we find the origin of the reference to Good Friday as Holy Friday. Another term used for Good Friday is Black Friday. It seems to be an appropriate term as Luke’s Gospel states,

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” Luke 23:44-45

Somehow over the years, the term, Black Friday, morphed into a special Holiday shopping extravaganza, the day after Thanksgiving.

The not-good part of Good Friday really begins on Thursday when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane praying.

“Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:38-39

In this passage, Jesus is praying to the Father. He knew the pain and suffering He was about to endure. Perhaps Christ’s human side cries out in anguish to take this humiliation and pain from Him. But, that cry for help only lasts for a moment, for He continues,

Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus accepted the horrors that were about to befall Him. He willingly accepted His earthly fate because His sacrifice went beyond death; He was a living sacrifice for all of mankind.

Let’s take a few moments to look at the crucifixion as described in the Gospel of John.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So, the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.” (19:24 Psalm 22:18)

So, this is what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 

“Woman, (19:26 The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect.) here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

The Death of Jesus

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 

“I am thirsty.”

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 

It is finished.”

With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken” (19:36 Exodus 12:46; Num. 9:12; Psalm 34:20) and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” John 19:16-37

Jesus was mocked. I look at the sign above His head on the cross, not accepting who He is but mocking who He claimed to be.

His clothes were taken and split up between the soldiers.

Jesus gave up His earthly mother, Mary, to John to care for as his own mother.

When Jesus said, “I thirst,” He was given sour wine to quench His thirst.

And finally, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “It is finished.”

At that moment, Christ was all alone. I often think of that moment of Jesus’ death. I imagine God, who is Holy, looking at His Son on the cross. Jesus had just taken every sin of the world, past, present, and future, upon Himself. Yet, God turns away at that moment because He is sickened by the sight of His sin-infested Son.

No, there wasn’t anything good about that first Good Friday, was there?

That is, except for one crucial item.

Jesus took all of our sins away, and humankind was finally free. God could now accept us as righteous in His sight.

God’s grace, His undeserved love, came down to save us, and on Good Friday, Jesus did just that through His death on the cross.

As you know, the story doesn’t end there. Jesus was buried, and three days later, He physically rose from the dead.

But that is a story for another day, perhaps this Sunday?

Amen.

The Wedding Banquet

The Parables of Jesus

April 13, 2022

The Wedding Banquet

Matthew 22: 1-14

This is the final devotion in my series, The Parables of Jesus. We have read and discussed vineyards, seeds, planting, harvesting, and weeds. There was a lost son, an unfair judge, lost coins, lost sheep and goats on the wrong side of Jesus.

Throughout these stories, Jesus stresses forgiveness, grace, love, and servanthood. I pray that all of you will continue to bring God’s word to the world’s nations.

This brings us to our final Parable.

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In the Parable of the Tenants, you may remember that the landowner’s son was killed. (Matthew 21:33-46)

In today’s story, the Son is alive once again. Jesus tells us that, as He surely will die on what we call Good Friday, He will also rise again on Easter morning.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his Son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So, go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So, the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

As in other Parables, once again in today’s story, Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is His bride. This may seem to be an unusual analogy. But, this is a visual of the promise of Christ and His church being united when he returns.

As in many of Jesus’ Parables, there is a stern warning here. The people invited to the wedding first were the Jews, but when they refused to attend, then the Gentiles were invited. After three years of ministering to Israel, the number of those who followed Jesus was few compared to the population.

So, Jesus invites non-Jews, Gentiles to the wedding feast. But Jesus warns both Jews and Gentiles alike that those who refuse His invitation will be dealt with harshly. As I have mentioned before, as long as you live and breathe, there is time for you to repent of your sins and have faith in Jesus Christ.

How did the Jews refuse the invitation to the wedding? First, they did not pay attention. The Pharisees and lawmakers saw Jesus as a rabble-rouser who upset Jewish tradition. Second, they mistreated the servants. Not only was Jesus mistreated and finally put to death, but so were his disciples. This mistreatment of Christians continues throughout the world, even today.

Finally, even a gentile is thrown out of the wedding for not wearing the proper wedding clothes. No, that isn’t a literal statement.

It’s a warning to those who don’t come to the banquet prepared. Instead, we should be dressed in the Gospel message, show our faith in everything we do, and be servants to all.

We are God’s evangelists. Like the servants, we are to go out into the world and share the Gospel with everyone. Some will listen to it and embrace it, while others will not. “Let those who have ears hear.”

Let me leave you today with my favorite passage from the Bible. Close your eyes and hear Jesus as He says:

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said,

 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Amen!