Rev. Kenneth Fellenbaum

My photo
Milford, Connecticut, United States

Bible Verse of the Day

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Shepherds

Have you ever wondered why the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ was made by the angels to shepherds? Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small village six miles southwest of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is known as the "Town of David" but it was not to royalty that the announcement of the new King's birth was made. Herod, the King of the Jews, learned about the birth through the Wise Men who were visitors from the East.

Bethlehem means "House of Bread." Nearby the village is the fields where Boaz, Ruth and others raised wheat and barley. However, it was not to farmers that the announcement was made of the birth of the One who would be known as "The Bread of Life" (John 6:35). Even a small hamlet like Bethlehem must have had some merchants who made a living through trade. There are certainly plenty of such shops today for pilgrims and tourists to frequent. The announcement of Jesus' birth was not made to merchants, farmers, or royalty but instead to several lowly shepherds. Why? I believe the answer is found in the prophecy of Micah 5:2-4 (also recorded in Matthew 2:6). "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel." The announcement of Jesus Christ's birth was made to the shepherds because the One who was going to be the Shepherd of Israel had come. (Isaiah 40:10-11 and Matthew 9:36).

Psalm 23 beautifully describes the work of a shepherd. Jesus also elaborated on the shepherd and his flock in John 10. A shepherd or pastor cares for his flock. He sees that the sheep have plenty of green grass and clean water. He leads them from one place to another. From time to time he has to retrieve a sheep that has strayed from the rest. Sometimes they need to have their wounds bound up and to be carried. The shepherd also protects his sheep from wild animals and thieves--anything that might harm the sheep. Jesus Christ is the "Great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20) and he is the "Chief Shepherd" (1 Peter 5:4) who has come and will in the end reappear. God, our Creator, who knows us and our needs has sent us a Shepherd--One who has laid down His life for us (John 10:11).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why Bethlehem?

Why did God choose Bethlehem to be the birthplace of Messiah? Most people answer by saying that because of the prophecy Messiah would be born there (see Matthew 2:4-6). This leads us to ask, "Why did God say that through the prophet Micah?" (5:2) One of the answers to this question is that Bethlehem was the "Town of David." This raises yet another question that I will attempt to answer below, "Why David?"

The Lord sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a King to replace Saul (see 1 Samuel 16:1-3). God indicated that he had chosen one of Jesse's sons to be the next king of Israel. "When Samuel saw Eliab and thought, 'Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.'But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart'” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). Then Jesse called his other sons to pass before Samuel, but he said, "'The LORD has not chosen these. So he asked Jesse, 'Are these all the sons you have?' 'There is still the youngest,' Jesse answered. 'He is tending the sheep.' Samuel said, 'Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.'So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, 'Rise and anoint him; this is the one.'So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah" (1 Samuel 16:11-13).

This passage provides some insight into why God chose David. It was not because he was the youngest and had handsome features! The fact that he was a shepherd might have had something to do with it (see Micah 5:4-5). When the Lord first told Samuel that he was going to have him anoint a new king, this is what he had Samuel say to Saul, "'But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command'" (1 Samuel 13:14). God chose David because of his heart. We can see the heart of David in his fight with Goliath; also in his Psalms, and in his desire to build the Temple. While David had a great heart--it was not a perfect one. But that's what Christmas is all about--the birth of a Savior (see Acts 13:22 and Luke 2:10-11).

Lastly, Bethlehem means "House of Bread." Surrounding the town are many grain fields (see Ruth 1). It is of no surprise then that the One who would be the "Bread of Life" was born there (see John 6:35-51).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gratitude - A Missing Attitude

Failure to give thanks is inexcusable. When we do not express gratitude, we are either not thankful or else we seemingly do no want to be bothered with the effort. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the biblical story of Jesus' healing the ten lepers.

"Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'When he saw them, he said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were cleansed" (Luke 17:11-14).

Leprosy was a terrible disease. Those who had it were forced to leave their homes and live in leper colonies. If, perchance, someone who had leprosy thought they had been healed, they were to go to the priests--the only ones authorized to pronounce them cured.

The instructions of Jesus involved a promise. Why go to the priests unless they were healed? The command indicated that if they went, they would be cured. Jesus put their faith to a test. He asked them to act as if they were healed. It is important to note that Scripture records, "As they went, they were cleansed." They did not wait until they were healed but began immediately in faith expecting to be found healed by the priest.

We applaud their faith and rejoice over this miracle. However, the sad note of this account is that only one of the ten returned to give his thanks. He showed his gratefulness and appreciation by glorifying God in a loud voice and falling down on his face before the Lord. Jesus accepted his gratitude, but in disappointment remarked, "Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?"

Certainly, there were overjoyed to be healed of the dread disease so they could once again return to their families, homes and work. But in the midst of their blessing, they failed to make the effort to return and give thanks. How often we are guilty of this as well. Do we remember to say "thank you" when we sit down to eat, when others extend their help, or for life and its many blessings?

Jesus said to the one who came back to say thank you, "Rise and go, your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:19). Since the man was already healed of leprosy--what did the Lord mean by this statement? Jesus was referring to a spiritual cleansing from sin that comes through confession of faith. The Bible states, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith..." (Ephesians 2:8).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Make, Mark & Mature

Some of the last words of Jesus to his disciples are commonly referred to as the Great Commission. Jesus said, "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" (Matthew 28:19-20).

Analyzing our Lord's comments, we note that he specifically mentioned three different things. First of all, Jesus wanted his followers to"make disciples." A disciple is a student or follower of a teacher or master. Becoming a disciple begins with the decision to become a follower of the leader. There are three essential prerequisites described in the New Testament which include the repentance of sin and belief in Christ as Savior. Then the individual is supposed to announce his decision publicly (see Romans 10:9-10). Observe the imperative given by Jesus to the disciples that they were to "go and make" disciples of all nations. Christianity is an evangelizing religion. It is part of our faith to recruit for Christ's kingdom.

Secondly, Jesus instructed his disciples that they should mark those making the decision to become a disciple by "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The Greek word baptizo literally means to submerge or immerse. In New Testament passages that describe baptism, we read things like "they went down into the water" and they "came up out of the water" (see Acts 8:38-39). Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and Philip baptized the Ethiopian official in a pool of water. Baptism as practiced by the Early Church always took place after someone's confession of faith or personal statement of belief (see Acts 2:38 and 16:31-32).

The spiritual significance of Christian baptism is explained by the Apostle Paul: "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him" (Romans 6:4-8). Like communion, baptism is a symbolic act participated in by Christians.

Thirdly, Jesus commanded his disciples to "teach them (the new disciples) to obey everything that I have instructed you." Notice the order in Christ's commission. It is just as divinely inspired as in the contents. A) Make disciples. B) Mark disciples; and C) Mature them by training them in all of the things that Jesus taught. There is enough material in the New Testament and the Bible that a lifetime of study could not exhaust. And study alone is not enough; Christians need to know and do what Jesus taught.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Ministry of Jesus

The last third of the fourth chapter of Luke's Gospel describes the ministry of Jesus (see Luke 4:31-44). There are five things in particular that Jesus did: teaching, exorcisms, healing, prayer and preaching. Let us look into these ministries to see what they involved then and what the Church, which is "the Body of Christ," should be doing today. Luke notes in the introduction to the Book of Acts about "all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day that he was taken up to heaven..." (Acts 1:1-2). Jesus continues his ministry today through his followers. Believers can be ministered to as well as be ministers by reaching out to to the world.

First of all, Jesus was known as a teacher of the Scriptures or Word of God. People who heard him teach were impressed by his message and authority (Luke 4:40 and Matthew 7:28-29). Unlike other rabbis, Jesus did not just "quote" authority but he spoke with authority. He could do this because he was the Son of God and very familiar with what the Spirit of God had inspired the biblical writers with initially. Jesus' teaching often stood in variance to interpretations that were incorrect because they were based upon distortions of the Word (i.e., his teaching on the Sabbath, see Matt. 12:1-12).

Secondly, Jesus frequently delivered people from the power and the bondage of Satan (Luke 4:33-36). Numerous times in the Gospels individuals had demons cast out of them. It has been observed that there is more instances of this in Jesus' ministry then found elsewhere in the Scriptures. No doubt the devil attempted to thwart the mission of Jesus and his completion of God's will. Christians should be encouraged today by the fact that "...because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). If you ever have to confront demonic forces, utilize the power of prayer and the Word of God. The same applies for addictions.

Thirdly, Jesus healed "all kinds of sickness" (Luke 4:40) by laying his hands on people. We usually turn to doctors, hospitals and medicines but in Jesus' time, most people did not have access to a physician. This is true today in much of the Third World. Jesus can heal through faith and prayer now just as he did when he was here on the earth. The next time you are sick or you know someone who is ill, remember this fact.

Fourthly, Jesus was a person of prayer. He got up early in the morning and went to a solitary place so he could pray (see Luke 4:42 and Mark 1:35). If Jesus needed to speak to his Father in heaven, then we certainly need to likewise. Start your day in this way and see the difference that it makes.

Fifthly, Jesus was a preacher of the Gospel or Good News about the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 4:43). Like John the Baptist, Jesus challenged people to repent of sin and turn in faith to God. This is how one enters the Kingdom. We are then to live under his lordship following his commands and doing God's will.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Dignity of Labor

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17). Of course, like children often do, they went out and did exactly what they were instructed not to!

One of the consequences of the fall by the first couple in the Garden of Eden was that Adam was told, “by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19). God originally placed man in the Garden “to work it and take care of it.” After their disobedience they had to work a lot harder—“painfully toil” and deal with “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:17-18). Growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, I used to fantasize and wonder what it would have been like to farm and not have to contend with weeds. As a youth I was upset that Adam and Eve “messed things up” but have since concluded I probably would have done the very same thing they were guilty of.

Throughout the rest of Scripture we are given many examples of people performing different types of work: Noah built the ark to survive the flood; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were herders of flocks as were Moses, David and others; the Children of Israel labored to make bricks for the Pharoah in Eqypt; Joseph and Jesus were carpenters; Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen; Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers; Luke was a physician; and Lydia was a merchant woman.

The Bible teaches the dignity of labor. Rabbi’s used to teach that if parents did not teach their children a trade they taught them to be a thief.

The Scriptures also set forth the principle that workers are to be compensated fairly for their labor—“the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18). Additionally, “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

As we near the end of summer and celebrate “Labor Day Weekend” let us consider what the Bible says on the subject. And let us pray that the “Great Recession” will begin to subside and folks who want to work will be able to find jobs.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Determining the Will of God

God has a plan for our lives (see Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:15-17 & 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3). In this message I will share how it is possible to determine the will of God for your life.

1. Through the use of Scriptures. A lot of things are covered in the Bible that are part of God's revealed and general will for his people. You do not have to think about things that are specifically covered in the Scriptures. The Bible makes it clear what things we should not do and other things that we ought to do. In addition to these matters, God frequently speaks to us through his Word. An example is the Apostle Peter seeing in two passages from the Psalms that another individual should be selected to replace Judas (Acts 1:20-21). Many times God will make something clear to you through a passage or verse of Scripture--even if the original context is not related. So be sure to spend time in the Word.

2. The casting of lots was a method used to discern the will of God in Old Testament times. The early Church cast lots and the lot fell to Mathias and he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1:26). This could be a bit chancy--I would suggest that we use our God-given intelligence to research all of the possibilities and then seek wise advice or counsel before making a decision. Have faith God will guide you.

3. The leading of the Spirit. Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit indwells all believers (Acts 2:4, 1 Corinthians 12:13). Jesus indicated to his disciples that one of the things that the Spirit would do for them is to "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Christians should look for the leading of the Spirit which can be ascertained through the presence of peace in our lives or the absence thereof. The Spirit will give you an inner sense or conviction of what you should do.

4. Through Prayer. Speak to God, your heavenly Father, using prayer and ask him to show you what it is that he wants for your life. If you are faced with difficult decisions, speak to him as you would a parent and talk it out with him. When you pray things should crystallize or become clearer. Be sure not to do all the talking--allow time to listen for his voice. This is what I refer to as "two-way prayer." Asking others to pray for you or to pray with you is also beneficial.

5. Open and closed doors. When you are faced with several possibilities, after prayer and counsel, select one that seems best and move forward. If God closes the door, look for another one that is open and attempt to go through it. Frequently when God closes one door he will open another but you have to take initiative and move (see Acts 16:6-10; Colossians 4:3).

Doing these things will help you discover God's will for your life--including big or small matters.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Use and Abuse of Freedom

A poll revealed that many people who live in New York City did not know what the 4th of July was. Some said it was a holiday but they did not know why it was a day off. Others said it was a time for picnics and fireworks. July the 4th involves these things, but it is principally a day when we celebrate our nation's independence from England. The Colonists did not like "taxation without representation" so they sent delegates to Philadelphia where they met together and then signed the Declaration of Independence.

The celebration of our nation's independence causes us to pause and think about what freedom means - not only politically but spiritually. Within our country and Christ's Kingdom, mature individuals realize that we should use and not abuse our liberty. The Apostle Paul writes this to the Galatians: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). Paul makes an assertion and then follows it with a command. Christ has indeed freed us from bondage to the Law and the power and penalty of sin. The Law and the Ordinances involved more than 10 commandments. Scholars counted 613 things that were prohibited or required by God. No one could perfectly keep the Law so while revealing God's righteous requirements it also showed the need of a Savior. Paul wanted the early Christians to "stand firm" in their freedom in Christ and not fall back into slavery to the Law. The Apostle went on to say, "You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:13-15).

Let's look at these verses and notice three things: 1) Christian freedom is not freedom to indulge the flesh (v. 13). Christians are to live in liberty but not allow the use of that freedom to become a license to do whatever we want or feel inclined to do. Many of the people who claim to be the freest are really slaves to sin. 2) Christian freedom is not freedom to exploit our neighbor (vv. 13b & 15). Christians are not to abuse others in ways that we see all too often in the world around us but to lovingly serve others and God. 3) Christian freedom is not freedom to disregard the Law (v. 14). Christians are free to do everything--everything that is not condemned as sin in the Bible. Believers are free to do everything, but we must be willing to limit our freedom so as not to be a stumbling block to weaker persons. "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Corinthians 8:0).

In conclusion, everyone who has been truly set free by Jesus Christ expresses their liberty positively in these three ways: 1) in self control, 2) in loving service to others, and 3) in obedience to God's Laws.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Perfect Father

Jesus had a lot to say about "the Father." He made numerous references to our heavenly Father in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:7). I have selected three paragraphs in each of the chapters that teach us something very important about God. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV).

Jesus often used the expression, "You have heard that it was said...but I tell you..." The point Jesus was making here is that God's children are supposed to imitate their Father in Heaven. People usually excuse themselves for their less-than-perfect behavior. What Jesus was telling them to do in this passage would cause many to say, "I cannot do that because I am not perfect." This may be true but Christians should do their best to be perfect. It is like starting a course in school and deciding to attempt for "100" on every assignment or test. God is perfect and he wants us to try and be like him.

Another thing we learned from Jesus about God our Father is that he knows our needs even before we ask; but he wants us to ask nonetheless. Jesus taught his disciples to pray by giving this model prayer: "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. 'This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one '" (Matthew 6:7-13 NIV)

Prayer includes petitioning God for what we need. Jesus taught us to first pray about the things that pertain to God and then our own needs. If we "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" and if we ask, then "all these things will be given to you" (see Matthew 6:32-33).

The last point that we will consider is this article is that God our heavenly Father wants to give us "good gifts." Jesus said, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11). Human parents generally want to give their children good things. That is why they make such an effort to get just the right gift(s) at Christmas and birthdays. If we care about this, how much more does "our Father in heaven."

All of these things plus who he is (his divine attributes) make God "the Perfect Father."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice

What is Memorial Day? It is a legal holiday the last Monday in May in memory of the dead service personnel of all the wars. Unfortunately, to many people, Memorial Day is just the third day of a holiday weekend that sort of begins the summer season. It is a time for people to get together with family and friends, open the pool or put in the boat, and cook a meal on the grill. All those things are fine in and of themselves but like other special days such as Christmas and Easter we should pause and reflect upon the true meaning of the holiday.

In just this century alone there have been two World Wars in addition to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf Wars and many other conflicts. In these wars many people have died in service for our country. The soldiers, sailors and marines who died sacrificed themselves for others. Along with suffering and dying a violent death they gave up two thirds to three quarters of their lives along with their dreams, hopes and plans. All of these people were someone's loved ones and friends. Let us remember them and their families. Their loved ones also experienced loss. They lost the time they would have shared with these people and everything that goes along with a lifetime of experiences. People may quickly forget the death of someone who was just a statistic but their families miss them at holidays and other special events including their birthdays.

Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). It has been said that soldiers ultimately die not so much for their country but for their comrades. Jesus did what he said is the greatest act of love; he laid down his life for us. Who are the friends of Jesus? He answered this in the next verse which reads, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (v. 14). This may sound like we are only his friends if we do what he expects of us but we should remember what his disciple John wrote about obedience: "This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands" (1 John 5:2-3). True love is more than mere words--it involves actions. If we love God and others we will show it by deeds.

The amazing thing about Christ's sacrifice is that he did this before we knew him: "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 man, though for a good man 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" (Romans 5:6-8).

Jesus was "the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). There is a parallel between Jesus' death which is remembered whenever we participate in communion and Memorial Day. In both cases we should take the time to pause and remember the sacrifice that was made for us. We should also sacrifice ourselves either by giving of our lives through service to others in our country or in the Church.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Most Favored Mother

When Jesus was crucified, the Gospels record several significant things that occurred during that time. One of those incidences: "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 his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home" (John 19:25-27).

This touching story is very insightful for understanding Jesus' relationship with this mother, Mary. It is important to notice that when Jesus was on the cross he did not call out for his mother, rather he expressed concern for her. Even though he had brothers and sisters, it was the disciple John who was present at the cross. Jesus wanted his mother to be looked after and cared for and he gave this responsibility to John, "the disciple whom he loved."

As in the movies, let us flashback to the time before Jesus was born when the announcement was made to Mary about the birth of Jesus: "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.' 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'" (Luke 1:26-34)

Mary was truly an outstanding young woman. Of all women living at the time she was chosen to be the mother of the Lord Jesus. No doubt one of the reasons why was because of her purity. The Scriptures states in two places (Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27) that Mary was a virgin. How many young ladies today could qualify? By Mary's own testimony she was a virgin and because of that had difficulty understanding how she was going to give birth to a child. The angel explained that this would come about through the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, Mary was unique in her spirituality. Upon learning how God wanted to use her she testified about her knowledge and understanding of God: "And Mary said: 'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name'" (Luke 1:46-49). Anyone reading this statement would be impressed by her theological insight; especially for a 15-16 year old girl.

Mary is also to be noted for her availability to be used by God. Mary said to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). Someone has said that the ability that God most often looks for in us is our availability. What is it that God wants you to do? What is your response when he calls?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Assurance & Hope

Jesus appeared to His disciples on the evening of the day that He arose from the grave. In the afternoon Jesus appeared to two disciples who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. At supper when He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. They found the eleven, along with the others assembled, and they said, "It is true! The Lord has risen." Then they related what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread.

"While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "'Peace be with you.' They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?'They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms'" (Luke 24:36-44 NIV).

On Easter, and every Sunday for that matter, we celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead. For us as Christians, this is one of our Cardinal beliefs and has been for the two thousand years of the Church. But think with me for a moment what the resurrection meant to the disciples in the First Century. Even though Jesus had told them on a number of occasions that He would go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die and on the third day come back to life; they apparently had not grasped the meaning of His words. We do not read, for instance, that any one of them got up on the third day and went looking for the Lord. Instead, they had gone to attend His body at the tomb. They were still in shock over the turn of events that had led to His arrest, trial and crucifixion in a very short period of time. When Jesus met with them, He assured them that He was indeed alive; that He had risen just as He had said.

What if Jesus had not come back to life? He would have been like any other religious leader who had lived and taught but then died and passed from the scene. While His followers might have passed along His wisdom they would not have been able to offer the eternal hope that is ours because He is alive. Without the resurrection we would indeed still be in our sins and we would be left without the hope of life after death (see 1 Corinthians 15:17-20; John 11:25-26).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

His Cross and Ours

On Palm Sunday the Church celebrates Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus rode into the City on a donkey accompanied by His disciples and to the greeting of the crowds who shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" (Matthew 21:9). Unfortunately the joy of Palm Sunday begins to dissipate as we remember the events of Holy Week two thousand years ago that culminated with the night of agony in Gethsemane and the suffering on Calvary's cross on Good Friday. The Gospel accounts clearly state that Jesus knew in advance these turn of events before He went to Jerusalem.

After Peter's great confession at Caesarea Philippi, that Christ is the Son of the Living God, "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (Matthew 16:21). Observe that the word "must" is repeated in this verse to emphasize the necessity of Christ's going to Jerusalem to suffer and His being crucified (see Matthew 20:19). The reason that Jesus left Heaven and came to earth was for the purpose of His sacrificial death on the cross. This was the Father's will for His life that He faced and struggled with in the Garden the night before. Jesus realized that there was no getting around the cross and He went to Calvary to finish the mission for which He was sent. When Peter heard Jesus talking about this, he "took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22). Twice Peter used the word "never" when he addressed the Lord. Jesus' stern response further underscores the necessity of the cross (see verse 23). Jesus heard the voice of His adversary, Satan, in the words of Peter.

Jesus continues saying this to His disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26). While Jesus was facing the cross, He stated the necessity of the cross for us as well. For Jesus the cross (a means of execution and not merely a burden) meant His literal death. The requirement for Christ's followers is given as a threefold challenge: 1) Denial of self, 2) Taking up the cross, and 3) Following Jesus. The message of the cross is not an easy one. It runs counter with our human nature; but if we are going to be true disciples of Christ, then there is no avoiding what Jesus stated.

The shallow contemporary "gospel" that is so prevalent today has commercialized Christmas and made it a gift-giving extravaganza. The birth of a baby is always a joyous event and the wise men did present gifts to Jesus' parents; but the first Christmas was, after all, the birthday of the Savior. Easter has also been marketed as a celebration of hope and renewal that includes the Easter Bunny and eggs. There would be no joy of the resurrection, however, if there had not been His death on the cross. This is why the cross is the symbol of Christianity.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Be An Olympian in Life

The 21st Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver, Canada comes to a conclusion this Sunday night (Feb. 28). Chances are you were among the more than one half of all Americans who watched the events on television.

In the Olympics, held every four years, there are only three medals awarded per event; bronze, silver and gold. The athlete dreams of winning the gold and mounting the center podium as their country’s national anthem is played. These incredible individuals train and practice for years in preparation for the competition. Their personal stories of sacrifice and commitment are truly inspiring to hear. They appropriately command the world’s attention and admiration.

The culmination of years of determined effort is often separated by a mere fraction of a second between the top performers. I always thought that the most disappointing finish was not to come in second but fourth place. Those finishing runner up to the winner at least receive the silver but you get no medal for fourth place. This is also true for all the others who finish below the top three positions.

What they do take away with them is the experience of representing their country and competing with the world’s best in the Olympics—an honor all by itself. No doubt they also derive satisfaction from the training, discipline and exercise in their sport.

Anyone can appreciate and realize the lessons from life that can be learned from these amazing individuals. You are not just a “winner” when you achieve the top spot on the platform—everyone who works hard and gives their best effort is truly a “winner.” Unlike the Olympics, life provides us with many opportunities to “grab the gold.” We would do well to emulate the dedication and hard work of the athletes and approach life with their level of seriousness and commitment.

In addition to the accolades and applause from family, friends and co-workers there is the simple satisfaction from knowing we have done well. If you fall down, get back up and keep going. No doubt the greatest reward will be hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21& 23).

This can be realized if we heed the exhortation of Apostle Paul. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Because he practiced what he preached, Paul could say near the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Greatest Thing

Everyone has asked himself or herself the great question of antiquity and of the modern word as well: "What is the greatest thing in the world?" You have life before you--you can only live it once. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet? In 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 the Apostle Paul says that the greatest thing in the world is love.

First, he stresses the importance of love, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In essence, without love you are a zero.

Secondly, the Apostle describes what love is. Fifteen different words and phrases are used to emphasize what love is or is not. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Only God's love is this perfect.

Thirdly, Paul contrasts love with other things that seem important. In doing so he points out that love is the greatest thing because it is permanent. "Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away" (1 Cor. 13:8). And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). Love is the greatest because it lasts.

Love is perhaps the most misused word in the English language. That is because we use the word to mean so many different things. The ancient Greeks had several different words for love. If our love conforms to the pattern that the Scriptures set forth, then we truly have the greatest thing in the world.

Love is to be shared with others. Christians are to be known for their love. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). Believers are to love one another and reach out in love to the world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Invocation offered at the MFD Chamber of Commerce Award Luncheon

Eternal God, Righteous and Loving Father:

We pause to acknowledge You and to seek Your Blessing on our gathering today. We are grateful for what we are experiencing -- the comfort of this beautiful facility, friends and the sumptuous meal we are about to enjoy.

In the midst of our good fortune our thoughts turn to our neighbors in a nearby nation. We continue to lift up the people of Haiti who are suffering greatly at this time. We ask that the help, sent by so many of us, would quickly reach those who are in a most desperate situation. We pray that our service personnel and the many relief workers would be given wisdom and strength to deal most effectively with the multitude of needs they are attempting to aide.

We also ask for Your protection of our brave men and women on a different mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. We remember our President and leaders in Washington -- as well as our State and Community -- give direction to them as they deal with the great issues of our time.

Lastly, we thank you for the good done through the service of those being honored today. Inspire us to leave here and emulate their good deeds.

For Your honor and glory, Oh Lord, we pray; Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pro Life

Many churches across America recently recognized the “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” (Roe vs. Wade Anniversary) while other churches focused on the civil rights struggle (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observed January 18). Also, the third week of January is designated for a call for "Christian Unity."

In addition to these emphases, the tragic situation in Haiti was probably noted by just about all congregations around the Country. I see in the faces of the children in Haiti a connecting theme—the value of ALL people regardless of their status in life. Young and old, male and female, black and white; “all are precious in His sight.”

Horrendous catastrophes like the Haiti earthquake, the tsunami in the Far East and even 9/11 serve to remind us of our common humanity. These situations should cause us to see and respond appropriately by changing our attitudes and actions.

Be “Pro Life” – Give and support children and their families in our community and especially now where needed most in a neighboring nation.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wise and Foolish Builders

Any builder knows how important the foundation is to a building. Even though it is not seen, it is what the structure rests upon. Equally important is what is beneath the foundation itself. Jesus used this fact to conclude His Sermon on the Mount by telling the parable of the wise and foolish builders.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (Matthew 7:24-27).

The wise man in Jesus' story built upon "the rock." He dug down until he reached bedrock and then he laid a foundation and built his house. While Jesus was using the illustration of building a house, he was really referring to the foundation or values upon which one builds his life. With this in mind we need to ask what constitutes "rock." The passage itself suggest the words or teachings of the Lord. The Scriptures or the Word of God certainly provides the sound basis upon which to build one's life; "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The Apostle James exhorted his readers to "not merely listen to the word," but to "do what it says" (James 1:22). The New Testament refers to Jesus Christ as the incarnate word (John 1:1,14). The Lord himself is indeed "the rock" (see Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 10:4). If we build our lives upon Christ and the Word of God we are indeed wise builders.

The foolish man chose to build upon the sand because it was easy and convenient. What is the "sand" that so many choose today to found their lives upon? It is the popular, Godless, hedonistic values of the age that caters to the flesh and immediacy. Like sand, these values are always shifting and moving about and do not provide the sure and stable footing like rock. When the storms of life come, and they surely will, the life built upon the "sand" will not stand up against the tests of nature. The crises of life reveal what we have chosen to build our lives upon. We are constantly being fed messages from the media that represent "sand." If we are not rooted in the Word of God, we will be influenced.

The Bible also teaches us the importance of constructing our lives with what is durable and permanent materials. The Apostle Paul wrote this: "If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work (life) will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). As we stand at the beginning of a new year, the question this message raises is, "On what and with what will you build your life in 2010?