Bless the LORD, O my soul….

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:1-5 (Read Psalm 103)

It’s so easy to neglect to thank and praise the LORD God and to forget that it is He who has so richly blessed us with all that we have and need. And, when we do speak words of thanks, it is so often only an outward expression and not the true and sincere response of our heart and soul.

For this reason, David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, calls upon his own soul to bless the LORD and not forget all His blessings.

What are the benefits with which the LORD God has so richly blessed us? He gave us His own dear Son to suffer and die in our stead; and, when we look to Him in faith, He forgives all our sins and iniquities for Jesus’ sake.

He is the one who heals all our diseases. He redeems our life from destruction. He crowns us with His loving kindness and tender mercies. He fills our mouths with good things and renews our youth. He executes righteous judgments for the oppressed. And through His Word, He makes known to us His ways and His mighty acts.

What a reason for us to join with the psalmist and bless and praise the LORD God from our very soul! He forgives our sins, removing them as far as the east is from the west, and accepts us for Jesus’ sake! Instead of judging and condemning us, He deals with us in mercy, provides us with all that we need, and assures us that His mercy is “from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him”!

Stop and consider all the blessings which the LORD God has provided for you, beginning with His great mercy and forgiveness toward you for Jesus’ sake. Then, with the psalmist and believers around the world, bless and praise and thank the LORD God with all your heart and soul!

O LORD God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I bless and thank and praise You for Your great goodness and mercy toward me, a sinner, for the sake Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

God gives us a glimpse into heaven

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:14-17

In this world, the battle rages between those in the kingdom of darkness and those who are in the kingdom of light. And the battle is fierce as the devil and those allied with him seek to destroy the faith of all who hope in Jesus. With his lies and temptations to turn us away from the truth, he seeks to separate us from Christ Jesus and the mercy and forgiveness Jesus won for us when He lived a holy and sinless life in our stead and then went to the cross to pay in full the penalty for the sins of the world.

At times it may appear to us that the battle is lost as we struggle against the forces of evil and are tempted from within and without. We watch as friends and family members fall and turn away from Christ and His Word. Even our own hearts and desires would lead us to eternal ruin. We are spoken against and persecuted for clinging to Jesus and the comfort of His Word.

But the battle is not lost. As the battle rages on here in this world and the Scriptures warn us of the suffering yet ahead for believers, Jesus shows us a vision and picture of the end. He wants us to know we have the victory in Him. The eternal joys of heaven are certain for all who trust in His shed blood.

John writes by inspiration of the Holy Ghost (Revelation 7:9-12): “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.'”

After we are shown God sealing His elect in this world to protect and keep them unto eternal life, we are lifted up into heaven, to the very throne of God, to see a great host beyond number arrayed in white. They are from every nation and kindred and people and language. They, together with the angels, stand before the throne and worship the LORD God and the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. And who are these arrayed in white? And from where did they come? One of the elders answered John: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.”

Who is it that we see in heaven around the throne of God? It is you and me and believers of all time who have come out of the great tribulation going on here in this world. They are the ones who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have placed their faith and hope in Jesus; they have come to the cross of Jesus and had all their sins washed away in His blood which was shed for the sins of the world. They have, by the gracious working of the Holy Ghost, come to believe the Gospel – that the blood of Jesus, their crucified and risen Savior, cleanses them from all sin (cf. 1 John 1:7 – 2:2).

It is with all their sins washed away by the blood of Jesus and clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ that they stand before the throne of God and before the Lamb and serve God day and night in His temple. It is because they have been cleansed in the blood of Jesus that God dwells among them and removes from them all the troubles of this fallen world.

As the Scripture reveals to us, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Though the battle rages on here in this world, we have seen the end. In Jesus and for the sake of His blood shed for us on the cross, we have the victory. He has shown us a glimpse into heaven and the glory that is ours there for Jesus’ sake. In Him we trust and rejoice! Cf. “For All the Saints,” v.5.

O dear Lord Jesus, holy and precious Lamb of God sacrificed upon the cross for the sins of the world, keep us through the tribulations of this world and preserve us unto the everlasting joys of heaven, for the sake of Your cleansing blood. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

God’s Word comforts us in afliction

“Remember the word to Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life.” Psalm 119:49-50 (Read Psalm 119:49-56)

Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

The good news that God is merciful and forgives our sins and iniquities and offers and gives to us eternal life for the sake of Jesus’ innocent sufferings and death in our stead is a message which the Spirit of God uses to give us life – to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ and comfort and assurance in Him.

It is our confident hope! Because Jesus Christ, God’s own dear Son, bore upon the cross the just punishment for our sins and then rose again in victory over sin and death, we have the assurance that our sins are indeed paid for in full and forgiven and that, as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, we also will be raised up on the Last Day unto life everlasting!

What a comfort this Gospel is to us in our affliction! As we suffer here in this world through hardships, sickness and disease – and when we finally face the time of our own death – we have the comfort of knowing that God has promised forgiveness for all sins and the everlasting joys of heaven to all who place their hope in nothing but the blood of Jesus shed, upon the cross for our sins!

O LORD God, my Maker, my Redeemer, and my Sanctifier, “Remember the word to Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life.” Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son

“…giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:12-14

Watching this world and the people in it is somewhat like watching someone jump off a skyscraper or high mountain ledge who thinks he can, without a parachute or canopy of some kind, fly and land safely on the street or rocky canyon floor below. For a brief moment, all may seem to be going well, but then comes the realization and terror of failure as the end comes into view.

So it is with people whose eyes are darkened by their sinfulness, people who think that they can somehow fly themselves into the gates of heaven and not suffer eternal death and damnation by their own futile efforts. They flap their arms and do their best, but the end looms near. As the Bible says, “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:2-3).

When we realize that we were once just as blind to the truth and headed toward our eternal ruin (cf. v. 21), we have every reason to give thanks to the Father. Why? He “has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

He sent His only-begotten Son into this world, a true man, to redeem us and win for us forgiveness of sins by His holy life and innocent sufferings and death in our stead. And, He chose us and rescued us from the kingdom and power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His crucified and risen Son, Jesus Christ, that we might have pardon and forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s shed blood and a place in His everlasting kingdom!

O gracious Father, we thank and praise You for rescuing us from the kingdom and power of darkness and transferring us into the eternal kingdom of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Blessing and happiness come from walking in the way of the LORD

“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart!” Psalm 119:1-2 (Read Psalm 119:1-8)

People think that blessing and happiness comes from choosing their own path in life and seeking their own desires and goals. God’s Word, however, tells us something entirely different. It tells us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). It tells us that true blessing comes with walking in accord with the Word of God. It comes to those who hear and keep God’s Word and seek the LORD God with their whole heart.

God’s Word calls upon us to turn from our own sinful ways to Him. He promises us mercy and forgiveness in the shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5). And, through His Word, He will lead and guide us “in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24).

O LORD God, forgive me for turning aside and going my own way in life. Wash away my sins in the holy and precious blood of Jesus Christ, Your Son. By Your Spirit, draw me into Your Word and lead and guide me in the way everlasting! Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How do you want the Lord to look upon you?

“Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.” Psalm 25:6-7

How would you have the LORD God deal with you? On the basis of your sins? Or, on the basis of His mercy promised of old and made possible by the atoning sacrifice of God’s Son in our stead? How do you want God to judge you on the last day?

David clearly knew he was a sinful man who was deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. Read Psalm 25. How many times does David acknowledge His sin and request God’s mercy and forgiveness? Count them.

We look to the LORD God to have mercy upon us and save us for the sake of Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead. With David, we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God to have mercy upon us and forgive us rather than dealing with us as we justly deserve. Cf. Psalm 130; Psalm 32.

And God provided a substitute for us to be sacrificed on the cross in our stead for the sins of the world! Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God in human flesh is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29; cf. Gen. 22:1ff.). He took our sin upon Himself and suffered our punishment that we might be pardoned, forgiven and have everlasting life (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:1-2).

While many would turn away from Christ and go it on their own, we with David pray that the LORD would remember us in His lovingkindness and with His tender mercies for the sake of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for sin. We pray that God would not look upon our sins, but look upon the holy and precious blood of Jesus shed for our sins and remember us in mercy and with forgiveness.

Indeed, it is the only way to stand in God’s sight. Apart from Jesus, we stand condemned by God to the fires of hell. In Christ Jesus, our sins are pardoned, forgiven and no longer remembered against us. In Christ Jesus, God deals with us in lovingkindness and mercy. He brings us into His covenant of forgiveness and assures to us life everlasting!

According to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Wake, Awake, Judgment is Coming!

If an enemy army was amassing at our borders and threatening to destroy us, or if a disease like Ebola or worse was spreading across the land and causing death and suffering, people would take notice and take action to protect themselves and their loved ones. But a much greater threat is on the horizon and people simply ignore the warnings and do nothing to save themselves or their children.

The eminent threat and destruction on the horizon of which I speak is the judgment of the Almighty God upon this world and all who continue in rebellion and disobedience to the Lord of all! The warnings are not new. They have been recorded for all mankind to hear and heed for thousands of years, but the day draws near.

Jesus described it in this way (Matthew 24:29-30): “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” In Revelation 1:7, it says: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they [also] which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”

Jesus said His coming will be sudden and unexpected: “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27).

And, of course, many go to this judgment already, whether they die from old age or disease or are killed suddenly through an accident, violence or war. The Bible says: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Though some say God’s judgment will not come because everything continues on as it has for centuries, consider that God’s Word says (2 Peter 3:9-10): “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

What’s my point? Why do people completely ignore the warning signs and do nothing to be ready for that day when they must stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and judge of all creation?

The Bible makes clear that none of us can be ready to stand in that day by our own life or works. The psalmist wrote: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3), and the obvious answer is, no one, for “there is none righteous, no, not one” and “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10,23). Who can stand faultless before the holy God?

The only way to be ready for that day is to acknowledge our sinfulness and failure and look to God for salvation and deliverance. He provided a way for sinners like us to be saved when He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as a true man – Jesus Christ. Jesus kept God’s commandments for us – perfectly in thoughts, desires, words and deeds (cf. Hebrews 4:15). And God took your guilt, my guilt and the guilt of the whole world and laid it upon His own Son and punished Him in our stead when Christ Jesus suffered and died upon a Roman cross at Jerusalem. As the Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6); and, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Christ Jesus paid in full the punishment for all our sins and rose again on the third day that we might have forgiveness and life through faith in His name (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 4:25). In Jesus “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7; cf. Colossians 1:14). We who have sinned and come short have been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 4:24). Though none of us could stand in God’s judgment based on our own works or life, for the sake of Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross, the psalmist writes of the LORD God: “[there is] forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psalm 130:4).

Nothing we can do will stop God’s judgment from coming upon this world, and no one can escape it. But we can be ready for that day by turning from our sinful ways to Christ Jesus, God’s own dear Son, our Savior and our Judge, for pardon and forgiveness and life.

Again, Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Those who turn to Jesus in faith will be spared in that day of judgment and will receive, instead of death and condemnation, the everlasting joys of heaven!

Yes, it’s high time to wake up and be ready for the judgment of God upon this world and its people! The day is coming!

Pray that God’s people would repent and look to Him for mercy and understanding of the truth

“As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.” Daniel 9:13 (Read Daniel, chapter 9)

Have you ever known a church or a church body to admit and confess its sin and seek the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness? Even though they may not claim it to be so, the attitudes and actions of church bodies often give the appearance that they count themselves infallible in their official actions.

Consider what happened to the visible church in the Old Testament – to God’s people Israel. They turned aside from following after the LORD God and from His Word and commandments. Again and again God warned them and called upon them to repent, but did they heed God’s Word spoken to them by the prophets. Finally, God’s judgments spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy (see 28:15ff.) and by the prophets came true and the land was made desolate, the temple and Jerusalem destroyed and the people scatted among the nations.

Daniel recognized from the Scriptures that God was righteous and that it was his own people who had sinned and brought all this evil upon themselves. Thus, He prayed that God would have mercy and forgive the sins of his people and, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10; 2 Chron. 36:21f.), that God would restore them to their land and and to true worship and service of God.

How true this is today as well! Not only have we and God’s people sinned as individuals, we have sinned as churches and church bodies in departing from the Word of the Lord and from true worship and service to the LORD God who has both created and redeemed us!

Instead of faithfully proclaiming God’s Word and calling all to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus and His blood shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, we have failed to preach God’s law in all its severity and His gospel in all its sweetness, leaving people with the false belief that God is satisfied with our own righteousnesses rather than directing people to the only righteousness which avails before God – that which is imputed to us through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Tit. 3:3-7; Phil. 3:8-9; Rom. 3:19-26). And, when it comes to teaching all that Christ has commanded us (Matt. 28:19-20), we have often neglected to hold fast to every article of Christian doctrine, often conforming to the world rather than following Christ our head and holding fast to His Word (cf. Eph. 5:22ff.; Rom. 12:1-2).

In Daniel, we have an beautiful example – an example for us to follow in regard to our prayers and petitions to the Lord God. We pray, acknowledging not only our sins as individuals but our corporate sin as a congregation, as Lutherans, as members of Christ’s visible church in this world, even as a nation. We confess our sins and pray that God would pardon our sins and turn us from our iniquities and to a right understanding of His truth. We pray for His mercy in Christ Jesus!

O LORD God, have mercy upon us, upon our churches and upon our nation. We have sinned in turning aside from Your Word and from Your salvation in Christ Jesus. You are righteous; we have gone astray. Pardon our sin and restore us to a right understanding of Your truth, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[Scripture Quoted from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

Words of Encouragement for July 16, 2014

Have we forgotten our Maker?

“O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand….” Psalm 95:1-7a

In Hosea 8:14, we read that “Israel hath forgotten his Maker.” They were still a religious people, but they had forgotten who the LORD God was and how to worship and serve Him.

These words are not only true of Old Testament Israel at the time of Hosea the prophet; they are true of us today. As a nation and people, we have forgotten our Maker and we neglect to give Him the glory and praise due unto His name.

We need to remember that “the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

In spite of man’s attempts to escape this fact, the truth still remains that the LORD (Jehovah) God of the Bible (the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost) has created us and all things by His almighty word (Gen. 1-2; Neh. 9:6). It is He who formed us in our mothers’ wombs and gave us life (Ps. 139:13-16), and He it is who sustains our lives (cf. Ps. 145:15-16).

And, not only is He the Creator and Sustainer of all things, He gave His only begotten Son and redeemed us through the innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus that we might have forgiveness for all our sins and again be alive to Him and worship His name (cf. Ps. 130:7-8; Jn. 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10; Rom. 5:8-11).

Isn’t it about time we remember our Creator; look to Him to forgive our sins for the sake of the holy life and bitter sufferings and death of the Son, Christ Jesus, and then worship and serve Him with our lives?

If we do not humbly kneel before Him now, we shall be humbled and kneel before Him on the Last Day when He executes His judgment upon all people (cf. Phil. 2:5-11; Ps. 2).

O Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, for the sake of Christ Jesus, our Savior, forgive us for our many sins against You, and grant that we might kneel before You and worship You both now and for evermore in heaven! Amen.

 

Do you harden your hearts against the LORD?

“To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, [and] as [in] the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with [this] generation, and said, It [is] a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest..”  Psalm 95:7b-11

Will you enter God’s eternal rest, or are you hardening your heart against Him? God’s Word comes to you. You have it in your Bible, and it is still preached by faithful ministers; but will you hear it and believe it?

The Children of Israel heard God’s words through Moses and even directly from God Himself on Mt. Sinai. They saw God’s mighty works in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness. But did they believe? Did they trust in the LORD God to lead and guide them, provide for them in their journeys and bring them safely into the Promised Land? The answer is, No! Again and again, they grumbled and complained. Again and again they disobeyed the commandments of the LORD. And, when it was time to go up and take possession of the land the LORD was giving them, they doubted God’s Word to them and wanted to return to Egypt. Therefore, because of their unbelief, they did not enter into the promised rest.

Now, the Word of the LORD comes to you. It calls you to repent of your sinful ways and rebellion against the LORD and receive forgiveness and life through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, God’s own dear Son. Will you hear God’s Word? Will you acknowledge your utter sinfulness and rebelliousness before the LORD? Will you come to God and trust in Him to receive you and forgive you of all your sins because Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God in human flesh, fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s law for you and then bore your punishment upon the cross and rose again?

If you refuse to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus for mercy, you go astray in your heart. You do not know the way of the LORD, and you will not enter into His eternal rest! But if you humble yourself before the LORD, hear His Word and believe, you will receive of His mercy and be blessed with the eternal joys of heaven for Jesus’ sake!

LORD God, have mercy upon us and grant that we not harden our hearts against You and the truth of Your Word. By Your Holy Spirit, grant us true repentance and faith In Jesus Christ our Savior. In His name we pray. Amen.

 

Are you suffering?

“I know, O LORD, that thy judgments [are] right, and [that] thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” Psalm 119:75-76

Are you suffering? Are you facing hardships and difficulties in your life? Do you know pain and heartache all too well?

As Christians, we learn from God’s Word that His judgments are always right — God makes no mistakes in His dealings with us. When He afflicts us and chastens us, He is being faithful to us, as a loving Father.

You need not feel that God has forgotten about you, or that you are suffering wrongfully. God has a purpose and a plan, and He is working for your good (cf. Rom. 8:28; Heb. 12:3-11). Peter writes: “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls [to him] in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19).

In our suffering, we can also find comfort! That comfort lies in the “merciful kindness” of our God. Even in our suffering, God has not dealt with us as we deserve. As the Scripture says, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as the heaven is high above the earth, [so] great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12; cf. Lam. 3:21-23).

Instead of punishing us for our sins, God laid them upon His own Son, Jesus Christ, and punished Him in our stead. Our sins were punished upon Jesus’ cross, and Jesus’ resurrection on the third day proves that God no longer holds our sins against us (cf. Rom. 4:25). So, dear Christian, take comfort! God is being merciful and kind to you even in your suffering!

O faithful and merciful Father, comfort us in our affliction with the knowledge that You are doing what is good and right for us; and grant us the assurance promised us in Your Word that we have forgiveness and life through faith in Thy Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.

 

Why I won’t be in heaven

Again and again I hear preachers telling mourning loved ones that this person or that is, without a doubt, in heaven because of how much he loved Jesus, how many people’s lives she touched, how strong a faith he had or how much good she accomplished in her lifetime.

I can’t help but wonder, “Was it enough?” After all, God’s Word commands us to love the LORD God with all our heart, soul and mind; to love others as much as we love ourselves; to be holy and perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. It says our best works, in and of themselves, are like filthy and unclean rags in God’s eyes.

So, I just want to make a few things clear before I die. I might even suggest these words be read on that occasion so there is no doubt:

  • I won’t be in heaven because of how much I loved Jesus; I will be in heaven because of how much Jesus loved me!
  • I won’t be in heaven because of any good things I’ve done; I will be in heaven because of all the good and perfect things Jesus did for me!
  • I won’t be in heaven because of all I’ve sacrificed for Jesus; I will be in heaven because of all Jesus sacrificed for me when He gave His life on the cross and paid the just penalty for my sin.
  • I won’t be in heaven because I died a good death for Jesus; I will be in heaven because Jesus died a good death for me, conquered sin and death and rose again to be my ever-living Savior!
  • I won’t even be in heaven because of my strong and enduring faith; I will be in heaven because Jesus gave me His Spirit at my baptism, and the Holy Spirit endured me and patiently and again and again throughout my life revealed to me my utter sinfulness but assured me of forgiveness and acceptance for Jesus sake!

So, you see, I won’t be in heaven because of me – I’ve failed and come short; but I will be in heaven because of Jesus – He did it all!

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Rom. 3:23-24).

To quote from the hymn (emphasis mine), “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness,” written by Ludwig von Zinzendorf and translated by John Wesley, nearly 300 years ago, “When from the dust of death I rise to claim my mansion in the skies, e’en then, this shall be all my plea: Jesus hath lived and died for me.“

 

Church YouTube Channel

The church now has its own YouTube channel where worship service videos and other materials may be watched. The web address is: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVfTHbq6uVGyPgyG7Pz4Rkw.

 

The Case for Christ

Lee Strobel, a journalist, examines “The Case for Christ” and turns from atheism to the Christian Faith. The video is useful because it answers the misconceptions and objections of many in regard to Christ, who He is and what He did for our salvation. It may be watched at: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=FJ9FMMNU.

 

The Case for Faith

Lee Strobel, a journalist, examines “The Case for Faith.” How can Christianity claim Jesus is the only way? and, If there is a good and loving God, how can there be so much evil in this world? Though the video may fall short in explaining the fall of man and its affect on man’s free will and our inability, of ourselves, to know and come to Christ, the video and his book provide good and useful answers for our own doubts and for the objections of others. It’s certainly worth watching and considering: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=FJ0J2FNU.

 

Preparing for Sunday

Scripture Readings for Sunday are: Psalm 68:20-35; Daniel 4:1-37; Mark 3:1-21. Please read them in their context as you prepare for worship.

Sunday Adult Bible Class will continue its study of the Book of Genesis, in chapter 9.

 

Verse to Remember

“Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory [due unto] his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.” Psalm 96:7-9

 

Remember to Pray

Remember to pray for our church and for all our members, that none be lost to Christ’s kingdom but that all continue in repentance and be strengthened and built up in the true and saving faith in Christ Jesus through the hearing and study of His Word. We continue to pray for all who have been sick or who are suffering among us – especially for Tim, Mel, Bill – for our extended families – for Janet’s sister, for Jessica, Naomi, and Tristan – and for believers who are alone and have no congregation. We remember the churches and pastors in the Philippines. We pray for those suffering and persecuted around the world. And we pray for our nation and its rulers, that our people would repent and look to God for mercy, forgiveness and direction.

 

Announcements

Prayer Request cards are located in the back of the church and may be filled out and given to the pastor or an usher to include people or requests in the Sunday prayers.

A special fund to assist those in need has been started by the church council. Members may designate special offerings for this fund if they wish. The pastor and council members are authorized to distribute money from this fund when needed.

 

[Scripture taken from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

Words of Encouragement for April 16, 2014

“The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified … Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” Matthew 27:21-22,26

If you were in the crowd outside the Praetorium on that first Good Friday and you heard these words of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, offering to release unto you either Jesus or Barabbas, what would you say? Would you ask that Jesus, who was innocent and without sin, who claimed to be the very Son of God, be released unto you? Or would you join the crowd in asking for Barabbas, a notorious prisoner who was a robber, rebel and murderer (cf. v.16; John. 18:40; Mark 15:6-7)?

What would you say after the crowd asked for Barabbas and Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, who is called Christ? Would you join the crowd in crying out of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified”? We say that we would not. But, if we remember why Jesus was crucified and condemned, we must admit that every time we sin, we do say of Jesus, “Crucify Him!” When we sin, we add to the burden of His cross!

Now, if you were Barabbas, in a prison cell and chains, expecting to die for your crimes, what would you do if the soldiers came and set you free – if they told you that you had been pardoned by the governor and were free because an innocent man by the name of Jesus was being crucified in your stead? How would you feel?

Isn’t this exactly what has happened to each and every one of us? We are guilty of sin – we have broken God’s Law and are guilty of insurrection (rebellion) against God Himself! Which commandments have we not broken? We deserve to be condemned by God to the eternal fires of hell which He prepared for the devil and his evil angels! But what has happened? God’s Word has been proclaimed to us – we have been told that God has pardoned and forgiven us because His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, suffered upon the cross the full punishment for all our sins (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19; Gal. 3:10,13; Col. 1:21-22; 1 Pet. 3:18; Isa. 53:4-6; etc.).

Now, we don’t know for certain what happened to Barabbas after this; but we might just consider a couple of hypothetical possibilities. What if Barabbas had rejected his pardon? What if he had said, “I want to be tried and judged on my own merits”? There seems to be little doubt but that he would be condemned and probably put to death – possibly even on a cross. What if he accepted his pardon and went back out robbing and killing and rebelling against the Roman Government? Would he not be arrested and condemned for his new crimes?

What about us? God has pardoned us for Jesus’ sake. What if we say, “No, thanks. I will stand before the judgment seat of God on my own merit”? The Bible is quite clear. If we refuse to accept God’s pardon, we shall be punished for not believing on the name of God’s only begotten Son and our Savior (cf. John 3:18). What if we accept God’s pardon but then use our gift of freedom to intentionally continue on in our sinful ways? Will we not be judged and condemned of God for continuing to rebel against Him? Cf. Hebrews 6:4ff.; 10:26ff.; 2 Pet. 2:20-22. The Scriptures leave no question about the end result.

It is true that we by our sins are guilty of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. With the crowd on Good Friday, we by our sins say of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified!” But because Jesus went to the cross for us, we, who are guilty like Barabbas, have been pardoned and set free! God has graciously forgiven our sins against Him, and He offers and gives to us everlasting life with Him in heaven.

Let us give thanks unto our Savior for bearing upon the cross the guilt and punishment for our sins that we might be acquitted and partake of the everlasting blessings of heaven. And, let us use our lives here in this world to the praise and glory of Him who has redeemed us and set us free.

O Dearest Jesus, we thank and praise Thee for bearing upon the tree of the cross the guilt and punishment for our sins. Amen.

 

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:45-46

What is it like to be forsaken by one you love? Think about – imagine, if you will – what it would be like to be rejected and forsaken by the one most dear to you. (For some, this has happened.) How would you feel? Would you not feel devastated and crushed? If this rejection were the result of some sin or failure on your part, it would be more understandable, but nonetheless painful.

Now think how the LORD God must feel! He created us in His image – to live for Him and do His will (Gen. 1:26-27). He loved us and gave His own Son to die for us and redeem us from our sin (1 John 4:9-10). He has blessed us with all that we need in life, our food, clothes, houses, etc. (James 1:17; Psalm 145:15-16). Yet, we have forsaken God!

The Bible tells us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a); and “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his masters crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (Isa. 1:2-4).

We deserve also to be forsaken of God and condemned for our sins against Him. He would be perfectly “justified” if He were to condemn us in His judgment (Ps. 51:4); for all of us have sinned against Him and deserve to be forsaken and cast into the everlasting fires of hell which He has prepared for the devil and his evil angels (cf. Rom. 3:23; 6:23a; Matt. 25:41).

We may have, at times, felt the wrath of God upon us (Ps. 32:3-4), but God has not forsaken us! Instead He laid our sins upon His own Son, Jesus Christ, and forsook and condemned Him as He hung upon the cross. The Bible tells us that “the Lord hath laid on Him [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b).

We read that “from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (cf. Ps. 22).

Even if we can imagine how it would feel to be forsaken by one dearest us, we cannot begin to grasp what it was like for our Lord Jesus to be forsaken and condemned of His own heavenly Father! And this happened, not because of any sin or fault in Him, but because of our sin and faults. As our catechism explains, Christ truly suffered for us the tortures of the damned in hell (Qu. 138).

Will God condemn and forsake us on the Day of His Judgment? Not if we have faith in Christ; for He has already been forsaken and condemned of God for our sins, and He rose again in victory (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3,4; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:18)!

Jesus tells us, “He that believeth on him is not condemned” (John 3:18); and, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Those who trust in Christ will never be forsaken of the LORD!

O Dear Jesus, we thank You for bearing upon the cross the curse and condemnation for our sins that we might never be condemned and forsaken of God the Father, but have everlasting life with You in heaven. Amen.

 

Why do Christians celebrate Easter?

While some are quick to criticize Christians for celebrating Easter and point to ancient pagan observances in spring and to worldly customs involving such things as Easter eggs and the Easter bunny, Christians celebrate Easter for none of these things. They have an entirely different reason to observe the festival and to celebrate. Christians observe Easter to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day following His crucifixion just outside the walls of Jerusalem.

For the critics, it is true that Easter Sunday, set on the first Sunday immediately following the Paschal full moon, does not always fall on the third day after the Jewish Passover. But since Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Christian churches observe the day of His resurrection on a Sunday each year even though Eastern Orthodox churches sometimes observe the festival on a different Sunday than Western churches because of their use of the astronomical full moon rather than the Pascal full moon. Yet, all of this is neither here nor there. It wouldn’t be an issue if Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth in July and His resurrection in November, because it’s not about the date of the observance but the event that is remembered.

At Easter, we as Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the crux upon which Christianity either stands or falls. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, His death on the cross for the sins of the world would have been insufficient and there would be no promise or certainty of forgiveness of sins, our being accepted by God or of our own resurrection and eternal life through faith in Jesus.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:14-19 KJV): “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

But the Bible goes on to say (1 Cor. 15:20 KJV): “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”

Jesus’ resurrection proves that His death was a ransom accepted by God for the sins of the world (cf. Rom. 4:25) and that God, for Jesus’ sake, reaches out to us, lost and prodigal sons and daughters, with mercy and forgiveness. His resurrection proves that Jesus was true to His word that He would rise again on the third day, and it gives us the assurance that He can and will raise up all who have believed in His name unto everlasting life.

How do we know that Jesus really did rise from the dead? By eyewitness accounts.

Again, St. Paul summarizes the evidence for us (1 Cor. 15:3-8 KJV): “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

If anyone had doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the first century, there were plenty of living eye witnesses who could attest to seeing Jesus alive again following His crucifixion. Our faith rests upon the testimony of those witnesses recorded for us in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as in the Old testament prophecies of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity would be no different than other religions of the world which tell people all the things they must do or not do to be accepted by and one with their god and maker. Christianity is the only religion which teaches that man does not and cannot measure up to God’s perfect standards because we are all fallen sinners. Instead of man somehow reaching up, the Bible teaches that God reached down to us in the person of Jesus Christ and redeemed us from the guilt and condemnation of our sins by the innocent sufferings and death of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead (cf. Rom. 3:23-24). Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that we indeed have been redeemed to God! And it is proof that we who have placed our hope in Him will be raised up from our graves on the Last Day to the eternal joys of His kingdom!

And yes, this is cause to celebrate and rejoice! It is a reason to join together and sing God’s praises for accomplishing the salvation of lost and condemned sinners, for winning for all pardon and forgiveness, and for offering and giving the blessings of forgiveness and life eternal through faith alone in Jesus’ name!

“I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my ever-living Head” (Samuel Medley).

 

If Christ Be Not Raised….

“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” 1 Corinthians 15:17-20

Today, we as Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave after His crucifixion and brutal death upon a Roman cross just days before.
But not all believe in the resurrection. Even among so called “Christians” there are some who question and deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus and treat the whole issue of Jesus’ bodily resurrection as an insignificant matter, speaking only of a spiritual resurrection in which Jesus’ followers carry on His work by showing love and doing charitable works for the good of all mankind.

But is the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection really important? Does our faith really depend upon it? I invite you to listen to the inspired Word of God penned by the hand of the Apostle Paul and consider the hypothetical question: What “if Christ be not raised”?

“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

What does the Word of God say? If Jesus did not truly rise from the dead, our faith is vain, empty and useless! If Jesus is not alive, you and I are still dead in our sins and have no hope of forgiveness and life everlasting. If Jesus’ body is still moldering or decaying in some ancient tomb near Jerusalem, all those who died trusting in Jesus Christ – from Adam and Eve, Abraham and David to our very own loved ones who fell asleep in the confidences that Jesus would raise them up are lost forever.

And if our faith and hope in Christ Jesus is only of benefit in this life – a crutch or security blanket to help us cope with life’s problems – we are, as St. Paul writes, “of all men most miserable.”

Think of the Apostle Paul and the other disciples of Jesus who suffered the loss of all things and were persecuted and even killed because of their faith in the crucified and risen Christ. If Christ did not rise, what a waste the lives of his followers were! And what about you and me? If Christ be not raised, all our time and effort put into serving Christ and spreading His kingdom would have been a sham, a deception and a complete waste of our time and resources.

If Jesus were not raised, we would have nothing to celebrate today, no reason to be here on Sunday mornings and no hope for tomorrow! Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, there can be no Christianity, no Church, no kingdom of God!

But Jesus did rise bodily from the grave! The tomb was empty. Angels announced His resurrection, and Jesus Himself appeared to His disciples showing Himself to be risen and alive by many infallible proofs over a period of 40 days (cf. Acts 1:3). Jesus appeared to the women, to the twelve apostles and to many other of His disciples on numerous occasions.

The apostle sums up Jesus’ resurrection appearances in this way: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

You see, if anyone during the First Century had questions or doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, there was no shortage of eyewitnesses to His resurrection appearances. He even appeared to more than 500 disciples at once, and most of them were still alive if anyone wanted to talk to them and hear their eyewitness accounts. The Apostle Paul includes himself in the list of witnesses because of the risen Christ’s appearances to Him.

The Jewish rulers who tried to cover up the fact of Jesus’ resurrection by bribing the soldiers to say Jesus’ disciples stole the body while they were asleep – in itself, a foolish story – could have put an end to all question if they had just produced the body, but they didn’t and they couldn’t because there was not a body to be found – they knew the tomb was empty! And, if such a story were true, why would Jesus’ disciples give up everything, including their lives, to promote a lie? They wouldn’t have; but they did give up all, they did suffer painful and torturous deaths for one reason: Jesus did rise, as He said.

And what does the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection mean for us today? It means our faith is not empty or vain. Jesus did indeed pay in full the just punishment for the sins of the whole world, for God raised Him up on the third day (cf. Romans 4:25). We, by the grace of God, are not still dead in our sins. Your sins and my sins are paid for in full and forgiven because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.

It means that we too will be raised up, Christ, the first fruits, and we also when He returns. As Jesus said, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). It means those who have fallen asleep before us, trusting in the Lord Jesus, have not perished. They are not lost forever. Rather, those who “sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him” on the Last Day (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Yes, it’s true. Everything depends on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise, all is lost, no one can be saved. But Jesus did rise! And, because He died for all our sins and rose again in victory, we have forgiveness for all sins and the assurance that we too shall be raised up to be with Him forever in paradise!

Dearest Lord Jesus, we give You thanks and praise for Your bitter sufferings and death in our stead, and for Your glorious resurrection on the third day, that we might be assured of our salvation and await Your return in the sure hope of life everlasting, Graciously keep us unto that Day. Amen.

 

Preparing for Sunday

Scripture Readings for Sunday are: Psalm 56; 1 Corinthians 15; Matthew 28:1-10. Please read them in their context as you prepare for worship.

Sunday Adult Bible Class will continue its study of the Book of Genesis, in chapter one.

 

Verse to Remember

“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew 28:5-6

 

Remember to Pray

Remember to pray for our church and for all our members, that none be lost to Christ’s kingdom but that all continue in repentance and be strengthened and built up in the true and saving faith in Christ Jesus through the hearing and study of His Word. We continue to pray for all who have been sick or who are suffering among us – especially for Jessica Evans and Mel Boren – for our extended families and for believers who are alone and have no congregation. We remember the churches and pastors in the Philippines. We pray for those suffering and persecuted around the world. And we pray for our nation and its rulers, that our people would repent and look to God for mercy, forgiveness and direction.

 

Announcements

Maundy Thursday Worship with Holy Communion is planned for 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 17. Good Friday Worship will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 18. Resurrection Sunday is April 20.

An Easter breakfast, hosted at the church by Mike and Kathy Hawes, is planned for Sunday, April 20. Serving will begin at 7:30 a.m. and continue until shortly before the Sunday School/Bible Class hour at 9 a.m. Easter worship will follow at 10 a.m.

The Church Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30.

A special congregational Pot-Luck Dinner will be held on Sunday, May 4, after worship, to commemorate God’s blessings upon our church. A brief voters’ meeting will follow the dinner.

[Scripture taken from the King James Version of the Bible]