April always starts with a bit of a joke or a tongue in cheek story. Many of us get suckered in by someone who has that serious look and tone and tells us the most incredible story. And just when we have swallowed it hook, line and sinker, our friend says “April Fools’!”
I have an April story for you. It is about a young man who grew up in a small village, far away from the major population centers. The man worked in the building trades and not a whole lot is known about his early life. He had a Mother and Father and reportedly some brothers and sisters. The family was pretty religious and lived as typical people in their village. That was the way it was for the first 30 years of the young man’s life. But then it all changed.
The young man left the village and headed south where he encountered an itinerant preacher. After listening to the preacher, the young man decided to be baptized, just as the preacher had suggested. Well all kinds of amazing things happened when the young man was baptized. He started to talk with other people and it happened that he had an amazing amount of knowledge. And as he shared that knowledge with other people they were amazed at what he knew and how he explained things. He taught with such insight and power that people were fascinated by his teaching.
And then even more amazing things happened. It seemed that the young man had unique abilities and powers that allowed him to heal people who were sick, to feed huge numbers of people with just a few table scraps, and even to arouse people who had died. More and more people started to listen to the young man. But at the same time there were people who were in charge and ran things and they did not like what the young man was saying and teaching the people.
These powerful people were able to convince the government to arrest, try, and convict the young man of crimes against the government. And in spite of a lack of evidence and any harm, the young man was sentenced to death.
At this point in the story, you would expect to hear the words, “April Fools’.” But this is not a joke, and all of you, I am sure, recognize this as the story of Jesus. In many ways the Gospel of Jesus is an improbable story and sounds made up.
Yet, it is the greatest story on earth. God sends his Son, to earth, to live as a human, yet to do so without sin. And then this man Jesus, who taught with great authority and did many miracles, surrenders his life as payment for our sins. Jesus goes on to rise from the dead and give to all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior the promise of eternal life.
This improbable story is the Good News that we will celebrate as we conclude Lent and look forward to Holy Week and Easter this week in April.
Gracious God and Lord, the story of Your love, grace and mercy for us, Your children, is sometimes hard to believe. Yet, it is true, that You came and died for us to grant us the forgiveness of our sins. Not because of who we are or anything we have done, but rather because of who You are and all that You have done for us. Let us not be fooled by the people of the world who say that God does not matter, for truly we are solely dependent on Your grace and love for our eternal life. Thank You, Jesus. Amen
A Great Treasure
The word “Treasure” brings to mind a mental picture of Pirates, Adventurers, Miners and Explorers. I think the Pirate picture is most vivid in my thoughts, maybe because early in my life I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island. Then there was the film version starring Wallace Beery as the head Pirate. And of course who doesn’t think about Pirates after a trip to a Disney theme park and visiting the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Even today we can watch Johnny Depp in his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in a couple of Pirate films. Treasure somehow in this context has a connotation of ill-gotten gains or wealth.
Some of you may have heard of the book, The Treasure Principle, by Randy Alcorn. The simple premise of the book was, “You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead.” This reflected the simple Biblical truth expressed in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6:19-21) On the surface it might appear that Pastor Alcorn is instructing us that Heaven is our greatest treasure. And in a sense this could be true. For Peter in his first letter reminds us, “For you are receiving the goal of your faith the salvation of our soul.” (1Peter1:9)
What is the greatest Treasure? If you had the chance to read The Treasure Principle, you learned that the greatest treasure is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And as we progress through the Lenten season we will see Jesus turn his face toward Jerusalem. Intending to go to Jerusalem even though he knows that what faces him there is the hatred and rejection of the Chief Priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees. All of that hatred and rejection will result in the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus.
And in proper penitence and contrition we will confess that it was our sin, our failures, our shortcomings that necessitated Jesus’ suffering and death. And rightly we will know that our greatest treasure is Jesus who willing gives up his life for me and for you, and for our neighbor, so that our sins are forgiven and paid in full. Certainly Jesus is our greatest treasure!
Yet, I cannot help but also feel that I am a treasure, you are a treasure, our neighbor is a treasure – Why because God was willing to sacrifice his very own Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross, to buy us back from our sinful ways. God views that we are worth much – every sinner is worth great effort to be bought back and delivered home to heaven. While often in Lent we reflect on the poorness of our faith and depth of debt we owe for our sins. It is a time when we also want to give thanks for the greatness of the treasures that God gives us in His Son Jesus Christ and the promised treasure of heaven. Adding to this we should give thanks that God treasures us enough to send us the Holy Spirit to create faith in us so that we desire the treasures of Jesus and heaven. We are truly rich and have great treasures!
Dear God, deliver all who are in trouble, for You are our God, who sets the captives free; who gives hope to the hopeless, who lifts up the fallen and brings light to those enshrouded in darkness. You Lord, are our greatest treasure and may we will always know this and value You and the gift of Your Son Jesus, since you have provided us the gift of salvation. Lord, we pray that you preserve us, in our pilgrimage throughout this life. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Spring, Ah Spring
Are you ready? Absolutely! Of course as I write this article, we are looking at a forecast of another 4 inches of snow and while the sun is brightly shining, the temperature has still not broken above 32 degrees, so another sub-freezing day. But with the season of Lent starting, it is inevitable that spring will be here. Lent is actually a form of an old English word, which means to lengthen. And so it is that during the days of lent we see a lengthening, the lengthening of the day. There is gradually an increase in the hours of daylight and a decrease in the hours of darkness, and that is a sure indication of spring. Because not only do the days get longer, but also the sun is warmer and the earth begins to awaken from its winter sleep, and there is the promise of new life.
New life, that is one of the most wonderful things about Spring - the revealing of the new life. Some early flowers poking their stems up through the melting snow, and even blooming while still sitting in the snow mark this time. Even the other day I was certain that I heard a bird sing. And so now begins the process of new nest building for birds and animals. Some of us are watchful and hoping that the family of foxes returns to the area around the cemetery near our church to have their litter of pups, which has the benefit of keeping the geese out of the area. In many ways new life will be springing up all around us and we will rejoice and be happy with that new life.
And this idea of new life is also promised to us as we go through the Lenten Season culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus and his burial. Because the wonderful prediction and promise of Jesus is that on the third day he will rise to new life. And on Easter Sunday we see that promise fulfilled and thus new life becomes a reality for us.
Listen to what Jesus says to Lazarus’ sister Martha in the 11th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus has come to raise Lazarus from the dead and asks his sister Martha if she believes that her brother will live again. She says he will on the last day. But listen to what Jesus says to her. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
This is the fabulous promise that we see play out in front of us every year. In the fall living things die. They rest under the coating of snow during the winter and then with the lengthening of the days, new life springs forth. God’s beautiful creation gives credence and evidence of the great promise that Jesus gives and then fulfills with his death on the cross, his rest in the grave and then his resurrection to new life. How great is our God? He doesn’t ask us to believe things that we can’t understand. He shows us that the miracle of resurrected life is played out every year in the change of the seasons, the cycle of life. And He says if I can do that, why do you not believe that Jesus can rise from the dead and live? And that you too can live, through faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the promise of new life, eternal life is there for you.
Spring, Ah Spring, new life – Thank you Jesus.
O Lord, each one of your commandments accuses me, how often I have sinned against others. I throw myself in the dust before you and pray you to be gracious to me a poor sinful being. Graciously let your Word and the Holy Spirit change me and move my heart and speech to show true love for my neighbor. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lies, Do They Matter?
I saw an article on the Internet the other day about politicians and lying. The article said that politicians are expected to lie and in fact the article said that it is necessary for politicians to lie!
Really? Did you vote for someone who would lie to you?
I guess this same author would say that Satan had to lie to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan had to lie about what God said otherwise there is no way Eve would have bothered to listen to him. Why did Eve listen to Satan? Because Satan told her something that Eve wanted to hear, even though Eve knew the truth. The lie tickled Eve’s ears and perked her interest. “Did God Really Say?” “You won’t really die!”
Here is one of the amazing things about this whole story back in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve were not created to die. Death was nowhere in God’s plan. Death was not created in the first seven days. Death only comes into play when and if Adam and Eve violate a simple direction God gives them, which is to not eat of the tree. If they do, then and only then will they die, only then will death become a reality.
But Eve listens to the lie that Satan tells her and even inflates the lie when she says, “Oh yes, we will die even if we touch the tree.” (Not true, Eve, God did not say that!) But it is too late for Eve who listened to the lie and took and ate the fruit of the tree and gave some to Adam who was with her and he ate too! So, from this blatant lie, death entered the world and lying becomes a way of life, and ultimately death.
Adam quickly learned about lying, for God asks Adam where he is. Adam replies he is hiding because he is naked. God asks if Adam ate of the tree from which he was told not to eat. And Adam then blames Eve by saying, “The woman you gave me God, gave me some of the fruit and I ate of it.” So lying and blaming fall off Adam’s tongue.
The result of this lying and of death entering the world is that now there is a reason for God to come to earth in human form to provide the means of salvation, the means for the forgiveness of sins, which will be the sacrificial death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. We have now entered into the Church’s season of Lent, which is a time when we focus on the preparation for Jesus’ death on the cross. This death was made necessary by the lying and the deception started by Satan and believed by Adam and Eve. So, the answer to the question at the beginning of this devotion is yes, lies matter. Lies told by Satan, believed by our human parents, have brought death and separation from God into the world; nothing is more serious. Gratefully God had a plan of how to take care of those lies and the sins that follow and that is the life, death and resurrection of his only Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! That is the truth!
Lord, we pray for those who are tempted, distressed, erring or lying. Gently guide them by Your great goodness and bring them into the way of peace and truth. Please consider and comfort all those who are in trouble, danger, temptation, bondage to sin and those who have lost their knowledge of You and Your Son. In Your great love, grace and mercy, bring them close to You; for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.