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B3: Preparing for Worship

Thursday, May 17, and Sunday, May 20
Service theme: Rejoice! We have an Advocate


Worship Thought:  In our gospel lesson Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a “Counselor”.  Today we think of a counselor as someone who gives us advice.  The original Greek has the idea of someone who comes alongside us to help us.  “Counselor” is a decent translation; perhaps “Advocate” or “Personal Helper” are better.  In any case, that’s what the Holy Spirit does.  He comes alongside of us to help us.  In this week’s service, we’ll talk about how He does that.


Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”


•  In our Old Testament lesson God paints a picture of an army of dry bones being brought to life.  What power would be required to do that!  God told His people that He would put the Holy Spirit in them to bless them in powerful ways.  The Lord still makes that promise today!


Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs - we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”


•  The Pentecost account never gets old.  We marvel at the courage and wisdom of Peter, especially since just a short time before he couldn’t even “stand up” to a servant girl.  But the real miracle on Pentecost was the Spirit filling the disciples and working in their hearts.


John 14:25-27
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

•  Isn’t it wonderful to have someone help you with a big project?  Imagine that your garage is a terrible mess.  Finally, the day comes when you absolutely have to organize and clean it.  What a great thing it would be if your neighbor would walk over and say, “I have a few extra hours today.  How can I help you clean your garage?”  [And yes, this is a gentle hint to anyone who wants to help clean Pastor Kom’s garage.]  The Holy Spirit wants to help us with the biggest “project” of all: living a Christian life and going home to heaven.  Not only does He want to help us, He’s powerful and wise enough to give us the best help possible.


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, fill me with Your Holy Spirit in greater and greater measure.  I pray this in the name of Jesus; Amen.


 

Thursday, April 26, and Sunday, April 29
Service theme: Good Shepherd Sunday


Worship thought:  The picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is among the most beautiful in God’s Word.  But this week our Gospel lesson puts a slight twist into the picture.  Jesus condemns the unfaithful shepherds (hired hands) who mislead the sheep and leave them vulnerable.  That thought is picked up in the other two lessons as well.  Pray for faithful “undershepherds”: pastors, teachers, church leaders, parents and grandparents.


Acts 20:28-32
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.


•  Note that Paul told the Ephesian church leaders not only to watch over the people in the congregation they served.  They were to first watch over themselves.  If pastors and other church leaders aren’t first concerned about their own spiritual life they will be of little good to the people they serve.


1 Peter 5:1-4
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

•  Pastors and other leaders at church are overseers and serve with the authority of Jesus Himself.  Yet at the same time they are never to “lord it over” the people they serve.  They are to act in humility with the heart of a servant.

•  Notice that Paul puts himself on the level of the elders in Ephesus when he calls himself an “fellow elder”.  Paul was a humble person.


John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”


•  Jesus is the best Shepherd of all.  He gave up His very life for the sheep.  He is the gold standard for all the undershepherds who would follow Him.  Pastors, teachers, parents, church leaders, and others in authority are to put themselves and their good behind the people they serve.


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, bless my congregation with faithful leaders, leaders who follow the humble, giving example of Your Son.  Help them to stay close to You so they can lead us closer to You as well.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Thursday, April 5, and Sunday, April 8
Service theme: Resurrection peace


Worship thought:  Have you ever seen the phase: “No Jesus, No Peace … Know Jesus, Know Peace”?  It’s true, isn’t it?  It’s true because of Easter Sunday.  Jesus kept His promise to come back from the dead.  His keeping that promise is proof that He can keep all of His promises, especially the promise that we have peace and forgiveness because of His suffering and death on the cross.


Acts 26:19-29
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long - I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”


•  Festus, a Roman ruler, thought Paul was out of his mind for believing and teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead to provide salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike.  How tragic that some people seemingly have no interest in the peace that Jesus provides.

•  Notice that one of Paul’s favorite forms of evangelism was to simply tell people the great things that God had done for him.  He’s a good role model for all of us.


1 Corinthians 15:12-22
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.


•  If Jesus had not been raised from the dead our faith would be useless and futile.  In other words, we wouldn’t have any true peace with God.  But Christ has been raised from the dead; He is the first fruit of those who have died in the Lord.  Just as He came back from the dead so all believers will rise.


John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


•  When Jesus appeared to the disciples on Easter the first thing He said to them was, “Peace be with you.”  Right after that, Jesus told the disciples that if they forgive someone’s sins they are forgiven.  That’s where peace comes from: from the forgiveness Jesus won for us, the forgiveness that we can announce to others.


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, continue to fill my heart with Easter joy.  I have a Savior who is alive and with me every day.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Sunday, April 1 (Easter Sunday)
Service theme: Feast of Victory!


Worship thought:  This coming weekend we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with a feast of victory!  We’ll be celebrating Lord’s Supper, the sacrament that He instituted just a day before He suffered and died on the cross.  This great victory of Jesus over sin, death and the devil is ours through faith.


Acts 10:34-43
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached - how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen - by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”


•  Jesus’ resurrection was at the center of Peter’s preaching and should be at the center of preaching today!  Peter must have looked back on Easter as a pivotal day in his life.

•  Jesus’ work wasn’t done on Easter.  Peter reminds us that Jesus is the One who will be the Judge of the living and the dead.


Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

•  St. Paul urges us to set our hearts on things above, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.  What will that look like in your life?  How will you set your heart on things above?

•  Our lives don’t often look very glorious, do they?  Paul reminds us that when Jesus returns on the last day we will appear with Him in glory!  That glory is hidden now but will be made clear on the last day.


Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


•  Reading the resurrection account never gets old!  Imagine the joy and excitement (and even a little fear) that the women felt at seeing Jesus.  

•  The angel pointed the women back to the words of Jesus.  Jesus had said over and over again that He was going to come back from the dead.  This fact must have given the early Christians great confidence; Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen before it did.  He was indeed the Son of God.


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, as I prepare to worship on Easter Sunday morning fill my heart with faith in Your Son, my Savior.  Because He lives I will live.  He is in heaven preparing a place for me.  Work in the hearts of my church family so that they will be in church on Easter to worship You.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Thursday, March 15, and Sunday, March 18
Service theme: Behold the (hidden) glory of Jesus


Worship thought:  Glory is not something that is usually hidden.  The rich and famous of this world typically try to flaunt what they have in displays of glory.  When Jesus came into our world He was completely different.  His glory was hidden as He set aside the full use of His power.  The purpose of His time here on earth (and indeed the high point of the whole plan of salvation) was His suffering and death on the cross.  In one sense, there was nothing glorious about His brutal and cruel death.  But in another sense, it was one of the most glorious events in history.  Today we behold the hidden glory of Jesus.


Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”


•  The covenant God is talking about in Jeremiah 31 is a very simple one.  God forgives our sins.  That’s it.  Period.  There are no conditions that we need to meet.  He has made this glorious covenant with us solely by His grace.


Hebrews 5:7-10
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

•  The point of this reading is that Jesus is greater than Abraham, the father of the Jews, and greater than the whole Old Testament system of sacrifices.  


John 12:20-33
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.


•  This reading gets to the heart of what we’ll be talking about on Sunday.  Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify Him.  We would initially think that Jesus is asking the Father to bring worldly attention and acclaim to Him in a dramatic way.  That’s the way the world works. Instead, Jesus is asking the Father to keep Him faithful as He goes to the cross.  Jesus is asking that the glorious plan of salvation be brought to fulfillment with His suffering and death on the cross.  Death on a cross doesn’t seem glorious at all.  But in the eternal scheme of things it’s eminently glorious!


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, help me to find glory in the suffering that You allow in my life just as Jesus found glory in the suffering You put in His life.  Bless everyone in my church family as they continue on through the season of Lent.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Thursday, March 8, and Sunday, March 11
Service theme: Rejoice!


Worship thought:  We are now halfway through the season of Lent.  This coming weekend we pause to rejoice about what this season is really about.  It’s about our sin, but only secondarily.  Lent is really about the awesome and faithful love of our Savior, love that found full expression as He gave His life for us on the cross.  For that … and for all God’s other blessings … we rejoice!


Numbers 21:4-9
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.


•  This Old Testament account is a perfect picture of the season of Lent.  The Israelites sinned and felt God’s wrath.  God then provided salvation for them in the form of a bronze serpent.  The picture breaks down a bit because during Holy Week Jesus felt God’s wrath, not us.  We look to Jesus in faith just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent in faith (faith in God’s power, not in the serpent obviously).


Ephesians 2:4-10
 
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

•  When we read these verses we can’t help but rejoice!  We have been saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

•  Look carefully at verse four.  God is described as being rich in mercy.  Mercy has the idea of helping someone who really needs help.  What a perfect word to describe our situation.  We desperately need God’s help … and He freely and fully gives it.


John 3:14-21
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

•  Jesus referred to our Old Testament lesson as He talked about His suffering and death.  Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up so He would be lifted up (on the cross).

•  We know John 3:16 by heart.  When is the last time you slowly read and reread it, pondering its meaning?  Today would be a good day to do that!


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, today I pray for the members of my church family who are busy to the point of spiritual distraction.  Work in their lives to refocus them on the one thing needful.  I pray the same thing for myself as well.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Thursday, February 22, and Sunday, February 25
Service theme: Salvation and Suffering


Worship thought:  Last week we talked about the struggle that we face as we repent of our sins.  This weekend our theme changes slightly as we focus on the connection between suffering and salvation.  As unlikely as it seems, the two go together.  The salvation Jesus won came only after He had suffered and died.  Our salvation as believers happens in the middle of the suffering that God calls us to do.


Genesis 28:10-17
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”


•  Jacob’s suffering was self-inflicted.  His deceit and trickery resulted in his having to leave his father and mother.  And yet God’s salvation and promises were still there for him.  How great is God’s grace that He forgives and rescues us even after we have sinned.


Romans 5:1-11
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


•  This Scripture reading highlights God’s grace in beautiful ways.  What are your favorite verses?  How could you use these verses in your day to day life?

•  Notice in verse 3 that we rejoice even in our suffering.  God uses suffering to give us quite a few gifts.


Mark 8:31-38
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


•  Peter didn’t agree with the theme of this week’s service, at least as far as Jesus’ suffering was concerned.  When Jesus told the disciples that He was going to suffer, be killed and rise again Peter actually rebuked Him!  Have there been times in your life when you rebuked the Lord for the suffering that He allowed in your life?


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, help me and everyone in my church family to reflect on Your love this week as we get ready for this weekend’s worship services.  Help us to realize that we can rejoice even in the midst of suffering.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Thursday, February 15, and Sunday, February 18
Service theme: Our Lenten Struggle


Worship thought:  Lent is a time of struggle.  No, we aren’t requiring that you “give something up” for Lent (although that can be a good idea!).  Lent is a time of struggle because Lent is a time of repentance.  Repenting of our sins means coming face to face with our sinfulness and confessing that to the Lord and to those we have sinned against.  That’s hard work!  But, of course, repentance also means rejoicing in the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross.  


Genesis 22:1-18
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”


•  Abraham kept the first commandment as he was willing to kill his son at God’s command.  Would you be willing to make such a sacrifice?  Are you willing to sacrifice your time in service to the Savior?  Are you willing to part with your hard-earned money to further God’s Kingdom?  As you look carefully at your life what sins against the first commandment do you need to repent of?
 

Romans 8:31-39
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


•  Nothing can separate us from the love for Christ!  What a tremendous promise for us to keep in mind as we are repenting of our sins.  The devil may say to us, “There’s no way you can be forgiven of THAT!”  O yes, we can!  God’s love is powerful; His forgiveness complete.  Nothing can separate us from that love.


Mark 1:12-15
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”


•  The temptations Jesus faced in the desert were tough, so tough that God sent the angels to attend Him.  God does not leave us alone in our struggles; He comes alongside us with His grace and help.


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, as I prepare for the season of Lent I humbly ask You to make this time of the year spiritually significant and beneficial for me and for everyone in my church family.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen


 

Thursday, February 1, and Sunday, February 4
Service theme: Use God’s treasure faithfully


Worship thought:  A elderly Christian once said, “God owns everything and I’m His money manager.”  That’s a great saying, isn’t it?  A good money manager faithfully invests their client’s wealth so that it grows.  God is letting each of us use His blessings right now.  He wants us to invest those blessings (our time, talents and resources) in His Kingdom, faithfully using them to do His work here in this world.


Exodus 35:20-29
Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the Lord. Everyone who had blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen, or goat hair, ram skins dyed red or the other durable leather brought them. Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze brought it as an offering to the Lord, and everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it. Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun - blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen. And all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair. The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. They also brought spices and olive oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense. All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.

•  Just a few chapters before our reading the Israelites had used their blessings in a most unfaithful way.  When the Israelites left Egypt, the people of that country gave them gold and silver as they were leaving.  Later when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments the Israelites made and then worshiped a golden calf.  No doubt some of the wealth of the Egyptians was used to make that idol.  Now in this reading God called on the Israelites to use their blessings to build the tabernacle, a place of worship.  They responded faithfully to the Lord’s direction.


1 Corinthians 4:1-5
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

•  Paul tells us that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  When God gives us blessings He is giving us a trust, a responsibility to use those blessings in His service.  We want to be faithful in carrying out that trust.


Matthew 25:14-30
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’


•  On Judgment Day, we will stand before our Savior to give an account of what we have done with the resources He gave us during our lifetime.  We want to be faithful in using those resources!


Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, I want to be Your faithful servant with all the blessings You have given me.  Fill my heart with a sense of gratitude for Your undeserved love.  As Your love takes root in my heart my faithfulness will increase as well.  I pray in Jesus’ name; Amen