A Morning Message

       Good morning, brothers and sisters in Jesus!  As God’s grace is new to us every morning, I pray that we will see His loving hand blessing and working good despite the challenging circumstances!  I start the morning with a Lenten devotional called “On the Way of the Cross” by Thomas Oden and Joel Elowsky (it’s published by InterVarsity Press if interested in purchasing).  It’s a daily devotion that uses quotes from the early church fathers, strong men of faith empowered by the Lord to fight against false teaching, maintain the Gospel’s purity, and proclaim it boldly in a pagan world!
 
       In this morning’s devotion the father quoted was St. Basil of Caesarea, also known as Basil the Great.  This was not the Caesarea familiar to most:  the port city in Palestine on the shores of the Mediteranean.  It is best known for the work of an evil, worldly one called great, Herod.  On our tour of Israel we had opportunity to see the amphitheater and fresh water swimming pool (remember Jesus Christ Superstar as Herod sings “C’mon Jesus, walk across my swimming pool”) that Herod, the great builder, constructed.  Of course, everything Herod built was to human glory!  In his Caesarea, Herod’s great edifices were built to the glory of Caesar Augustus (only so that Augustus would recognize Herod’s glory).
 
       Basil’s Caesarea was in a different place and his greatness radically different from Herod’s.  He lived in Caesarea of Cappadocia, a region located in what is today central Turkey.  Born in 330 to pious and well-to-do parents, he would receive the best education which he then used in service to Jesus.  He was a great theologian, effectively confronting the heresy of his day:  Arianism.  While a great theologian, though, he is known as “great” because of his great love for humankind and his action to help others in Jesus’ name.  Basil donated land to the church and on this land he placed soup kitchens, medical care centers for the traveler, hospitals for the community, hospices for the dying and so on.  The area so flourished with compassionate care in Jesus’ name that it became known as the “Second City” of Caesarea.  Yet this second city of Caesarea, while still bearing the name of Caesar, was built to the glory of God for the good of His people!
 
       It was inspiring to read of this man, living in difficult times, who did small things with great love, actions that became great by and to the glory of God.  My difficult circumstances pale in comparison to life in Basil’s day.  But Jesus walks with us and brings to our lives so much blessing.  He gives us so many gifts that we can use for Him.  The appeal for cards to our Bethesda friends is a wonderful opportunity for us, the sewing of masks to cover and extend the usefulness of N95 masks, helping out at Crossroads Food Pantry, making a delivery for Backpack Bites, phone calls or Facetime or Facebook to the elderly, to our neighbor, to a friend all seem like insignificant tasks.  But done with Jesus’ great love to the glory of our Father, He makes great their blessing!  Keep your faith eyes open for Jesus’ blessing today.  And allow him to make you part of that blessing in some way to someone!
 
       Start your day with a prayer by St. Basil the Great:  O Lord, the helper of the helpless, the hope of those who are past hope, the Savior of the tempest-tossed, the harbor of the voyagers, the physician of the sick; You know each soul and our prayer, each home and its need; become to each one of us what we most dearly require, receiving us all into Your kingdom, making us children of light; and pour on us Your peace and love, O Lord our God.  Amen.
 
Love in Jesus, Pastor Craig

We Are the Church!

Greetings church in exile!  After all, that’s what we are right now.  At least in part, we know what the children of Israel experienced as they lived in far-away Assyria and Babylonia.  They were forced to live apart from their beloved temple in Jerusalem.  They weren’t able to worship the Lord as they had since the time of Solomon.  No more sacrifice.  How isolated and individual the worship they carried out in their houses.  How empty life felt without the uplift of worship together in the house of God!

 

So for us.  It wasn’t enemy armies that carried us away.  Instead a virus has forced us to physically distance ourselves from the church.  Yes, the service has been canceled this Sunday.  It is necessary for us to protect each other by separating ourselves from those of like faith.  As the Israelites had no idea when (or if) they would ever return and rebuild the temple, so we have no clue when we will be free to go and worship as the family of Holy Faith. We are left to worship at home in any form we can around the Word of God.

 

Yet God was always with His people.  He called them to repentance, to turn from themselves, and to rely upon Him!  Throughout their time apart from the temple, God spoke words of hope and promise through His prophets.  Lent is a great time to read those words.  Listen to Joel:  “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).  Yes, He was the Israelite’s God in exile and He’s our gracious God, abounding in steadfast love for each of us!  Or my favorite from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  God’s plan would return Israel to their homes and their temple.  Through them He would bring forward  the Savior Jesus, who is God’s loving plan for us.

 

Even as we are away from the church building, we are the church.  Peter, whose name means “rock,” is the one who said that as we come through faith to Jesus the “Lliving Stone”, we become Living Stones, built into a spiritual house…”  While apart from the church building, we are the church.  While we cannot worship in the church building, Jesus is there uniting us as one even in physical separation.  Reach out in God’s love to each other in any way you can.  And be open to God’s love as it comes to you from others.  Jesus loves you and so do I!  Pastor Craig

Peace in the Storm

Greetings, everyone, in the peace of our Lord Jesus.  He is the captain of our ship and working His love in our world.  This morning for my devotion I focused on Luke 8:22-25.  If you have a Bible handy (it’s a good book to keep close at all times, especially now) why not take a moment and read it… 

 

Experienced fishermen, with their sea legs under them, quaking in their sandals with fear.  They had encountered storms before, but not like this one!  And what made things even worse, their Master Jesus is asleep in the stern.  Doesn’t He care?  We know the answer.  Of course He does!  Jesus’ Words, His promise of presence and power, are not empty.  They are His loving action for us.  Jesus words come to life as He commands the wind and the waves, “Quiet, be still!.”  From life-threatening tempest to a sea like glass.

 

We are in another tempest of sorts.  Covid 19 is frightening.  Feeling alone, shut into the safety of our homes doesn’t necessarily lift our spirits.  But we are not alone in the storm.  Jesus is NOT asleep!  His Word, perhaps sitting in our laps right now, is not empty and powerless.  It is filled with the forgiveness, power and peace that Jesus is working for us right now.  As Jesus bid the disciples to trust in Him, so He calls upon us to know that He is at work for us right now.  And He will use us to do those small acts with great love – sharing what we have, encouraging someone who’s down, making a shopping run for the elderly – that is part of His turning the tempest of this storm.  Know Christ’s peace this morning as we move forward in faith, trusting in Him, making those decisions that keep our loved ones safe while doing what we can as we walk with Jesus.

 

In His peace and power, Pastor Craig

 

Keep Sharing God’s Love

Sitting in the kitchen, watching the birds feed outside the window on this frigid day, I’m reminded of the visit a pastor made on one of his parishioners.

 

The church he served was out in farm country.  Now and again he would visit the old farmer in an attempt to share the gospel with him. Each time the farmer would tell the pastor, “I believe in God. It is impossible not to when you look around at the beauty of this earth and the way in which life is created. It’s just Jesus I don’t understand. Why would a perfect and all powerful God have to come down as a man, and then die, just to make things right?” The pastor was never able to come up with an answer that the farmer found satisfactory.

Then one night, as the farmer was sitting in his living room, he heard a thump on his window. He went to see what it was and outside he saw a group of birds floundering in the snow. They were trying to get into the warmth but they couldn’t figure out how, and so they were dying in the snow. So the farmer went outside and opened his barn doors, and turned on the lights, and tried to herd the birds into the warmth of the barn, because he realized it was their only hope for salvation. But the more he tried to direct them the more they scattered. At that point the farmer thought, if only I could become one of them then I could lead them into the warmth. At that moment, he had an epiphany, and he fell to his knees and received, through faith, Christ as his Savior.

 

During this time of epiphany, may Jesus open the eyes of our faith to what He has done in His incarnation.  He is our Savior, with us through every joy and challenge!  But may we also have an epiphany regarding what He has made us.  We are His disciples, called not only to follow Him into the warmth of salvation but to reach out and share Him.

 

As Epiphany gives way to Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 26, when we will see in greater clarity what our Savior was born to fulfill for us, may we offer the sacrifice of our lives serving Him!

Keep Sharing God’s Love through Your Holy Faith!