Wow! To be a child of God!

Mark 3:34-35 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

This is such a fantastic statement. To think that Jesus considers us His family providing we obey the will of God is phenomenal. 

We put so much distance between ourselves and God. I know when I was very young I felt God was way up there somewhere far beyond my reach and I was down here somewhere. I revered God but felt the distance between Him and I was just so vast I never could think of being physically, intellectually or emotionally close to Him like a son should be to his father. 

But here Jesus calls me His brother. My three brothers here on earth and I were and still are very close and love being with one another. 

Jesus created me. God made me in His image. He gave me the opportunity by belief in Him to move from being His image to being His son. He gives me hope, joy, laughter. He takes my cares upon Himself. No depression. No anxiety. He died for me to recognize and achieve this opportunity. What more could He do to prove His love for us? Every one of us has to opportunity to be God’s child by expressing our free will to believe in Him and obey Him.

Why would anyone pass up such an opportunity for an eternal life of joy and love?

Lord, Can Our Faith Be As Simple As You Say?

Second Day of Lent 2019, Isaiah 58:1-12

Lord, can our faith be as simple as you say?

  1. To loose the chains of injustice.
  2. Untie the cords of the yoke.
  3. Set the oppressed free
  4. And break every yoke.
  5. To share your food with the hungry.
  6. To provide the poor wanderer with shelter.
  7. When you see them naked, to clothe them.
  8. Not to turn away our own flesh and blood. 

Lord, what about disputing about faith?

What about fasting food?

What about cleaning up our own lives first?

Lord, all the things you have Isaiah write focus on loving others, not ourselves. How do I improve myself? Is it as you said, Jesus? 

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”  John 12:24-26

When we focus not on ourselves but on producing many seeds, we gain eternal life. And yet, as you say, it is not we who are doing the work. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5.

As long as we follow you, as long as we remain in your vine, you produce the increase. You simply allow us to participate in your work. You are doing your work through us, the branches. If we fail to remain in you, we cannot and do not produce fruit.

Lord, helps us to love eternal life, You, our Father, our Holy Spirit so much, always, that we never think of loving this life and keeping it but anticipate eternity with You. 

Jesus, Father, Holy Spirit give me, give us opportunities to give myself/ourselves to others and loose the chains of injustice.

Image: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1695-97 by Sebastiano Ricci at the Detroit Institute of Arts, September 7, 2018.

The Time is Fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at Hand. Repent ye, And Believe the Gospel.

Before I retired, when I returned to the office after lunch, I would sometimes joke with the staff. I would ask them, “Did Publisher’s Clearing House call while I was at lunch?” 

The answer was always, “No, they didn’t.” And I would go into my office. I think the joke kept the atmosphere relaxed.

I never really expected to win the PCH prize of thousands of dollars a week for life. But from their TV commercials advertising the contest, seeing well-dressed people come up to your house, announcing that you just won a fantastic prize always seemed exciting.

I never expected to win because I never entered the PCH contest. But the thought of winning a lifetime of money and imagery were always fun to imagine.

The same with the TV show The Price is Right. Contestants are called to the stage from the audience. The Master of Ceremonies asks them to choose a door behind which could be a marvelous prize. I’ve never seen a contestant that wasn’t filled with excitement and suspense as they chose a door.

Imagine then the thrill of hearing Christ’s first words in the Gospel of Mark. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God [g]is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Wow. This is Christ calling us forward. He looks us in the eye and heart. He says to us, “This is the day you’ve been waiting for. You have the opportunity today to walk into the kingdom of God. With me today, right now, you can walk into my kingdom. I will love you eternally. I will share everything with you. I will even let you sit on my throne with me. 

“Here’s the thing. This isn’t like Publishers Clearing House or The Price is Right. I’m not offering you a prize that you can take back to your seat, take home, we never see each other again, and you die. No. I’m telling you that if you believe in me, you and I will walk into my kingdom together. We will live together eternally. I have power over death. You will rise from the dead as I did. Imagine that. Rising from the dead. No one else can offer you that prize, that power, that free gift at the end of your race. 

“All you have to do is agree to live like I do. If you believe in me, I will give you my Spirit. With my Spirit, you will have the strength and wisdom to live like I do. You have to agree to no longer live as you are accustomed to. You have to repent, turn around and follow me. Can you do that? Will you do that? 

“I’m not offering you a prize that stays in your garage after you are dead. No, I’m offering you eternal life. With Me, you will rise from the dead. Everything I own I am willing to share with you eternally. Will you agree to believe in me and live as I live? If you do, we will walk through that door together into eternal life.

“What’s your answer? I and the audience are anxious to hear your answer. Do you think death will satisfy your heart’s longing? Or do you want eternal life? How badly do you want eternal life? I’m so willing to give it to you and walk through life with you. Don’t listen to the audience on this one. Listen to me. You want what I have to offer. You’ll not regret saying ‘Yes, I believe in you Jesus.’ I promise.”

The Last Supper, 1786 by Benjamin West.

Bringing Souls Into the Kingdom of God.

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A few days before Pentecost, Christ washed His disciples’ feet. Pentecost celebrated bringing in the harvest. Christ modeled how the apostles were to bring others into the kingdom of God through forgiveness.

Christ told Peter, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.(1) His disciples knew what He was speaking of.

In front of the temple mount in Jerusalem are excavated ritual baths. The entrance stairs to one such bath is pictured above. All worshippers in Christ’s time would have used these baths before entering the Temple. They had to be as ritually pure as possible before God.

After the bath, the worshippers walked up the bedrock Temple entrance steps. On that short walk, their feet would become somewhat dirty again.

This Pentecost celebration Jesus would not make it to the temple with his disciples. He was crucified within twenty-four hours of this supper. By washing their feet now, Jesus was truly purifying them for the day they would enter God’s heavenly kingdom to eat with Him again. 

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22:15-16  

In scripture dirt often typifies sin.(2) Earlier in His ministry, the Pharisee Simon invited Jesus to a dinner. A sinful woman heard Jesus was there. She came to the dinner, washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissed his feet, dried them with her hair and perfumed them. Simon questioned Jesus and Jesus replied: 

 “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:44-50

In exchange for her display of faith, Christ forgave her. He cleansed her of her sins. Forgiveness cleanses. Forgiveness allows us to enter eternal life truly pure.

Jesus used the Pentecost festival that celebrates bringing in the wheat harvest to teach the apostles they are to bring souls into God’s kingdom. He taught them that forgiveness brings souls into the kingdom.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:14-15

We need to cleanse others, forgive them their sins. Christ wants us to harvest souls. We need to remember what Christ said at Simon’s dinner. “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little… Your sins are forgiven. …Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The apostles brought thousands into the Kingdom after they received the Holy Spirit. We need to humbly do also for millions and billions, one by one or in groups as the Spirit guides us. You and I can do this with the power of the Holy Spirit inside us.

Forgiveness is essential to eternal life. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Believe in Christ and harvest today’s crop as Christ prepared His disciples to do in their day.

Jesus told His disciples: “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” John 4:35-38


Image. Personal photo of excavated ritual bath in front of the Hulda gates in the south wall of the temple mount in Jerusalem.

(1) John 13:10 All scripture references are from NIV (R)

(2) Isaiah 64:6

Selfishness or Unselfishness, Cookies or Christ’s Work?

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I like to think of myself as an unselfish guy… unless it comes to cookies. I don’t at all mind sharing them. I just want my fair share, and then a few extra if no one’s looking.

I especially like chocolate chip cookies. Why do I have a hard time passing them by? I need to lose twenty five pounds. Why can’t I easily resist the temptation?

This may not seem like a selfishness issue. To me, it is. My wonderful wife wants me around as long as possible. My doctor told me some forty plus years ago to get down to 185 pounds. That hasn’t happened yet. My kids want me around too.

I know I’d seriously miss my guy friends with whom I regularly breakfast or lunch if they were to pass away. I think they would miss me too. It’ll surely happen someday. Will eating chocolate chip cookies quicken the advance of that day?  

Here’s how I look at it. Selfishness is doing something to benefit me regardless of the known needs of others. Unselfishness will benefit others, and maybe me too, but often I can’t see the personal benefit. Why can’t I see that helping others will benefit me, will give me the same or more joy or satisfaction as having a cookie? What am I missing?

My mind goes to Christ. He’s got to be the perfect example of unselfishness. After all, “Greater love has no man than this, than that he lay down his life for his friend.” (John 15.13) Did Christ eat cookies on his thirty three year trip to Golgotha? 

Those of us who believe in and obey Christ have eternal life locked up. What an inestimable treasure!! Christ kept His eye on the prize. So did Paul. So did Stephen who saw heaven opened as He was stoned to death for Christ. 

Will keeping my eyes on the prize rather than the chocolate chip cookie give me more time to tell others about eternal life? Can I weigh the importance of spending time eating a cookie – or several cookies – against the importance of spending time encouraging another soul to see Christ eternally face to face?

What other area of selfishness in my life may be keeping others from hearing the gospel that insures them eternal life?

The Jesus We Love.

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I was with a group of friends a couple Saturday mornings back, all guys. It’s amazing how the question “Am I good enough” pervades each of our lives. Other ways of stating the same question are “Am I where I’m supposed to be in life? Should I have a different job? Does (insert a name) think well of me?” 

No matter how you phrase it, it boils down to a self esteem issue quite often based on what others think of us, as well as what we think of ourselves.

That’s where Jesus is so important an example to each of us, especially the guys I enjoy meeting with on Saturday mornings, and some other guys on other mornings too for that matter. (It’s easier to do since I’m retired.)

As we had our discussion this morning, my mind went to God the Father’s fantastic estimation and exclamation about Jesus when Jesus was baptized. Heaven opened up and God the Father exclaimed in a loud voice “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11[1]

On top of that, God the Holy Spirit gently came down on Jesus like a dove. Wow. What had Jesus done to deserve all that when He was about thirty years old. 

Scripture (Luke 2) mentions that when Jesus was twelve years old, He loved listening to and asking questions to the teachers in the Temple. He was missing from His parents for three days? What did He eat? Where did He sleep? Apparently, He knew how to care for Himself. I think it’s safe to assume, – I can’t prove it – He had the same inquisitiveness and love of listening to and asking questions of teachers His entire thirty years.

His answer to His parents shows that even at twelve years of age, He knew His calling. And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Luke 2:49 

Whatever He was doing as “His Father’s business” those first thirty years, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit really, really, divinely loved Him and were thrilled with Him, Jesus, God who became fully man through birth. Books could be written on that subject alone. Suffice it to say for purpose of this note, Jesus was fully a man as well as God and God the Father was enthralled with the man, His Son, had become. 

The point I want to make is that even though Jesus lived perfectly, He wasn’t totally perfected as a man until He completed the task His Father gave Him, namely, to rise from the dead. “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” John 10:17-18 

This was the command He received from His Father: lay down your life and 2) rise from the dead. That’s gutsy. Because Jesus did it, millions who believed in Him have done the same thing, relying on His promise. Millions more are still willing to do it. I’m sure some of the guys I meet with are willing to do it. 

I remember myself, four years after I returned from Vietnam the thought occurred to me one day, “If I was willing to die for my country, why wouldn’t I be willing to die for Christ?” It was a no-brainer for me. Sure. Why not? (Nonetheless, I struggled for year about in what fashion I was willing to die for Christ. That’s another story, too.) 

The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” Hebrews 5:8-9 [Emphasis added]

I don’t think we appreciate that even though Jesus was perfect, He wasn’t perfected until he fulfilled His role as the author of our salvation by rising from the dead as His Father commanded Him.

So, for all of us that struggle with “Am I good enough”, take Jesus as an example. Throughout His life, by being obedient to His Father, His Father considered Him moment by moment perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect for roughly thirty three years. But Jesus was not considered perfecteduntil He rose from the dead. 

Put another way, for thirty three years, day by day, God the Father considered Jesus,

I’m well pleased with you, Son.

I’m well pleased with you, Son.

I’m well pleased with you, Son.

But even Jesus wasn’t finally perfected as a man until He rose from the dead. He had the courage to believe His Father gave Him the power to rise from the dead. That’s gutsy. We need to believe the same thing. By His loving power with Christ in us, we can rise from the dead.

So, while none of us is always obedient to Christ, remember that when we are, God Our Father is saying about us, “I’m well pleased with you.” When we are disobedient, He is willing to forgive us. And on that day after becoming a servant of all through and like Christ, after having picked up our cross, when we rise from the dead, we too will be perfected by the grace of God, by Christ in whom we believe and who lives in us.

If you don’t believe in Christ, join the crowd who does. Call on Him. You’ll love the challenge, the joy, the victory in Christ. Sometimes you may have more challenge than joy, but when the joy comes, there’s nothing like it and you’ll be so glad believed in Christ .


[1]All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, Biblegateway.com

Image of Christ’s Resurrection is from the Vatican Museum. Artist Unknown.

Mutual Admiration Societies

There’s a 1956 song sung by Teresa Brewer that goes, “We belong to a mutual admiration society, my baby and me.” We all love mutual admiration societies. We want friends that think like we do. We like to laugh together. We enjoy not having our opinions challenged too vociferously.

A few months ago, St. Paul’s words from his first Epistle to the Corinthians came to mind and changed my world. “ And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

There is a faith. There is a hope. Paul was sure faith and hope in Christ is the answer that assures us of life. I sincerely believe that too. But Paul tells me that above faith, above hope, the greatest is love.

In other words, Paul is saying to me, “Phil, if you really have your faith down pat, you will be an example of love to the world. Love is the proof of the genuineness and perfection of your faith.” A deep knowledge of my faith is not the perfection of faith. Love is the perfection of my faith.

If I want people to believe my faith, I’d better sincerely, kindly, openly love them first. Love, introducing people to Christ’s love, not my love, is the proof that my faith is worth living. Christ’s love, not my faith, needs to be first.

Christ exemplified this perfectly. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 Christ loved me while I preferred sin to love.

Christ wants us all to believe in Him but He didn’t just hang with people who believed in Him. He wasn’t looking for a mutual admiration society to the exclusion of others.

Both Matthew and Luke tell us Christ’s enemies called Him a friend of sinners because He dined with sinners so often. But Christ did so to capture their hearts with His love, not because He agreed with their sin.

That’s what I’ve learned. Faith isn’t first about getting people to know faith. Faith is first showing people that my faith in Christ has taught me to love others as unconditionally as Christ did. That’s the greatest and the hardest thing to do.

Christ did not come with a sword to beat us all into submission. Since He is love, He revealed His true self, Love, to everyone. His message was simple. He gives us all a choice. If you want eternal life, true eternal love, believe in Him. For people to believe in Christ, I need to come across as a kind, forgiving, accepting, understanding lover. I am learning we are called to plant the seed of love and let the Holy Spirit nurture their faith.