The Word of Salvation

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-43

True story: while pastoring a church in St. Paul, MN, I had to undergo extensive stomach surgery (they actually removed over one-third of my stomach.) While undergoing the surgery, my heart stopped beating due to the stress of the situation; I literally almost died on the operating table. Later, after about a five hour surgery, I began to wake up in the recovery room. In the meantime, a member of our congregation, who happened to be a nurse at the hospital, walked into my room, pulled up a chair—and started asking me for marital counseling!

I had tubes in and out of my body, was hooked up to heart monitors, and was moaning and groaning in pain; I was still drugged up from the anesthesia, and I quite honestly wasn’t even sure where I was. Nobody would blame me if I didn’t feel like ministering to one of our church members at that time! In fact, what I felt like saying was “do you think maybe you are having marital problems because you can only think of yourself and your own needs?”

Now look at the above verses again. Jesus had undergone the torture of flogging, had nails driven through his hands and feet, was publicly shamed by being nailed to a cross, was thirsty, in incredible pain, and dying—and yet, with not a word of rebuke or self-pity, he extended grace to a dying sinner!

Here are some of the things this passage teaches me: First, that death-bed conversions can be real! Part of our human nature thinks it is unfair that someone could live a selfish, sinful life—and then come to believe in Jesus as they are dying, and still be saved. But let me ask this: would you rather the Savior of the world had told the thief that it was too late—that he had no hope of forgiveness? Like the prodigal son who chose sin over family, we see God’s gracious heart—wanting to forgive; willing to forgive; waiting to forgive! (See Luke 15:11-32.)

The second thing I notice in this brief exchange between the thief and our Savior, is that salvation really is—really is!—fully free. The thief had no time to prepare, to repent, to do anything deserving forgiveness. And yet—we will meet him in heaven one day! He couldn’t be baptized; he couldn’t tithe; he couldn’t even make amends to those he stole from. All he could do was to ask Jesus to remember him—and this simple act of belief; this one sign of faith, saved him!  Let me preach for a second here: don’t ever, ever, ever add anything to the Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone! Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose from the dead—period! Believe this, and you are saved—period!

The third thing I note in this passage is that Jesus never stopped fulfilling his mission! He said in Luke 19:10 “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He did so—seeking and saving—even while dying! Are we as committed to the Great Commission that we have been entrusted with? (Matthew 28:18-20)

Let me conclude today’s meditation with this: do you have a friend, a relative, a loved one, that you have been praying for for years, but they still do not believe? Don’t give up hope; if they are still breathing, they are not beyond the grace of our gracious God! With their last breath (though hopefully before!) they may just call out to the Savior to remember them. And He will!

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The Word of Forgiveness

The Word of Forgiveness

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34

Imagine yourself nailed to a cross, after having been savagely beaten, mocked, shamed. Imagine further that you were innocent of all charges; indeed, the ones who deserved this death were all those who put you there.

What would your first words be? Complaining about the injustice of it all? Crying out for compassion? Cursing those who put you there?

Jesus’ first words were a prayer to his heavenly Father—that He would forgive them!

Let’s think this through from seven angles:

1) Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, not just by being on the cross, but in his High Priestly role of interceding for us (and yes, his prayer of forgiveness was for us who believe in him today, not just for those present at the crucifixion itself—John 17:20.) Hundreds of years before he was born, Isaiah prophesied concerning the coming Christ that he would “make intercession  for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). He is still doing so, my friends (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25.)

2) Jesus can forgive anything! Have you ever actually, really, committed a sin worse than nailing the Son of God to the cross? Remember, when Jesus took our sins to the cross, he didn’t miss any individual or any category of sin! See 1 John 1:9 and John 1:29.

3) Jesus lived and exemplified what he taught. “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

4) Their sin was one of ignorance—Jesus said “they know not what they do”—and this was echoed by Peter in Acts 3:17: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” However, let’s be honest—oftentimes the sin that we desperately seek forgiveness for is willful; we know exactly what we are doing. Grace covers even these; for a perfect example, read David’s prayer of penitence after he committed adultery and arranged for a murder to cover it up (Psalm 51; see also Psalm 32.)

5) Remember that, though Jesus was fully God, he was also a full human. Consider what it would be like to be abandoned by your friends, accused by the religious leaders, condemned by the fickle crowd, and handed over to those who hate you by the governing authorities. As a man, Jesus must have sought comfort or understanding from someone; from anyone! In fact, Psalm 69 (a Psalm predicting the life and death of the future King) has Jesus saying in verse 20 “I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.”

6) We have noted—and it is true—that Jesus did not deserve to die as he did—indeed, he did not deserve to die at all, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23—and Jesus never sinned.) There is one often forgotten truth, however—Jesus did deserve to die; to suffer the wrath of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Jesus actually became sin—he actually somehow, mysteriously, became all of the sins of all of the world and of all time! In this sense, as the embodiment of every sin ever committed, Jesus at that time did deserve to die; he was, for that time on the cross, actually not just identifying with sinners, but was sin itself!

7) You Are Forgiven! We need to end on this note; your sin has been paid for; it will never need to be paid for again. Remember, once you accept the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for you on the cross, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1.)

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March 31, 2020 – An Everlasting Rock

  “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting Rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4 

When I read God’s Word, I look into the truth of it, then it’s always a joy for me to look for application and personalize what he has shown me. As you read the questions below, spend some time praying about your own circumstances, then simply write a personal prayer. 

Peace of God: Where do I get my peace? Or do I even have that peace?

Mind on God:  Does my mind stay on the LORD? Or where does it go?

Trust in God: Trust! Define trust. 

And as you reflect on these three things, look at verse 3 again. Get a rock, or if you cannot, imagine you’re holding a rock, and it represents Jesus. Is your rock immovable? Is your rock fragile? Is your rock weak? Is your rock everlasting? 

Again, God will keep in perfect peace those who trust in him. The invitation is: Trust!

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March 30, 2020 – Five Things We Know God is Working Toward

During yesterday’s message on “God Is In Control” from Daniel Chapter One, I mentioned five things that God is working toward; these are things that we can confidently pray because we know that we are praying according to his will—“This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)

Here Are the five; these are good guides for our prayers today and everyday:

The Glory of God

“Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” Isaiah 43:7

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory!” Psalm 115:1

The Salvation of Sinners

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4

The Character of Christians

“My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” Galatians 4:19

“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

2 Peter 1:5-7

The Building of His Body

“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:12

“The whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16

The Destruction of the Devil and his Works

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8

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March 28, 2020 – Prepare for Resurrection Sunday

Preparing For Resurrection Sunday

“He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.” Matthew 28:6

This is really not so much a devotional email as it is an encouragement to start now preparing your hearts for an Easter season and day unlike any we have had before. Unless things change fairly soon, this will be an unusual Easter when we don’t even gather together, physically, to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, the current limitations on meeting in person should in no way keep us from worshipping and celebrating during this season;  the following are a few ideas how to focus your heart and mind on the reality of the real reason we celebrate Resurrection Sunday:

Read an Entire Gospel between Now and April 12: You can easily read any of the four Gospels just by reading a couple of chapters a day between now and Resurrection Sunday.

Choose One Day to Fast and Pray: Setting aside one day to seek the Lord’s presence in fasting and prayer might prepare your heart for Easter Sunday more than anything else you can do. If a whole day seems overwhelming, how about skipping one meal on Good Friday, spending the time in prayer and meditation?

Watch a Movie about the Life of Jesus: My personal favorite is “Jesus of Nazareth”; it is long, but you could take a few nights the week before Easter to watch it. “The Passion of the Christ”, for those who can handle the intensity and (realistic) violence, is another good one. The 2016 movie “Risen” explores the resurrection through the eyes of an initial skeptic. (You may want to check reviews online before watching these last two movies with younger children.) There are, of course, many others.

Daily Devotions for the Week Leading Up to Easter Sunday: I am currently sending out daily devotions on various topics; starting April 1 I will send ones on the Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross. These will actually be the ones I sent out two years ago leading up to Easter in 2018. You can use these alone or to help your family prepare for Easter as well.

Invite: We will be continuing our Sunday Morning 10:30 online worship services; I would encourage you to send invitations to anybody and everybody to join us for these. I would especially encourage you to prayerfully invite others to tune in on Easter Sunday; I assure you they will hear the Gospel of Hope during this time when many are struggling to make sense of what is going on. They can join us by simply going to our web site eastmountainvineyard.org

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March 27, 2020 – The Gifts of God

The Gifts of God

This morning God brought the following verse to my mind; after meditating on it for a while, I started looking up other verses that mention God’s gifts to us. I had such a good time doing so I decided it would make a good devotional to send out.

Here is the verse that got me started:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

Here are some of the verses that God led me to while I was thinking about all the gifts of God; just spend some time meditating on these and any others that come to your mind. Extra credit: why not commit your favorite to memory?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38)

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

This last verse was especially meaningful to me this morning—that God has given me the “free gift of righteousness.”  Remember, the gifts of God are not a reward for righteousness. The gift of God IS righteousness!

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March 26, 2020 – The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

John Chapter 10, Verses 11 and 14

Today, rather than reflecting on my meditation, you are going to provide your own!

Open your Bible to Psalm 23, read through the Psalm 3-5 times, and, before looking at anything I have written below, just let God speak to you through this Psalm. Make it personal, putting your name in all the appropriate places. (Notice how David refers to the shepherd as “he” in the first three verses, but then starts saying “you” in the final three; David himself made the Psalm personal!)

 Make it a prayer of thanksgiving and an expression of trust to your Shepherd! Think through your own life; in what ways have your seen the promises in this Psalm fulfilled in the past? Are there any phrases or promises that are especially meaningful to you right now, in your present life? Are you confidently trusting the leading, protection, and provision of the Good Shepherd for your future? What areas in your present life, or future, do you find it difficult to so trust him? Turn these areas over to his care in prayer.

Prayer Focus

We individually and corporately need the guidance of our good shepherd today and in the days ahead. I shared two verses from John Chapter 10 above; let me share one more (Verse 27):

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Pray for yourself and your family, that you would clearly hear the voice of your “good shepherd” and have the grace to follow him closely. Think of one more person in our church, or anyone that God lays on your heart; pray the same for them. Finally, pray for East Mountain Vineyard Church as a whole; that the leaders (and everyone who is part of our church) would likewise hear, trust, and obey the voice of the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).

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March 25, 2020 – Blessings and the Blessed

Blessings and The Blessing

Daily we thank God for protection, for provision, for special people in our lives, and for many other blessings that we have received by his mercy and grace. Such thanksgiving is appropriate and an acknowledgement of his “blessings” is Scriptural (read Psalm 103 for example).

But—what does God’s Word point to as “The Blessing” of God?

In Ephesians 1:3, we are told that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” The ultimate blessings of God are spiritual and heavenly—hence, eternal!—and not the temporary provisions and even prosperity that he might choose to “bless” us with here on this earth. Even the Old Testament saints, who could have misunderstood God’s promises to merely mean an earthly home, actually understood that God meant so much more: “They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore…he has prepared for them a city.”  (Hebrews 11:16)

Paul, in Romans 4:6-8 (quoting Psalm 32:1-2) also notes the spiritual nature of the truly blessed when he notes that the truly blessed person is the one whose sins are forgiven! “David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”

The point is that we truly are blessed by God when we realize that he is preparing for us an eternal home in the heavens, and he is also preparing us to belong in this home!

“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”  (Acts 3:26)

When God transforms a sinner into a saint, that is his true blessing! While it is true that God may (and does!) bless us with many things in this world, his real blessing is to free us from this world!

He does this by granting us, not the spirit of the world, but His Spirit, freely given to those who believe: “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come…that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Gal. 3:14)

Final point to think about: the blessing of God is not a reward for righteousness; the blessing of God is righteousness!

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Daily Devotion March 24, 2020 – The Sufficiency of Grace

The Sufficiency of Grace

Now (as always) we need to remind ourselves and each other that our entire lives are to be lived in dependence upon God’s grace—his unmerited, underserved, and unlimited favor, blessing, protection and provision. Even the Apostle Paul had to learn this lesson; after three times asking God to remove a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8), he received an answer from God—one that he may not have expected, but that he did embrace:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Paul was content with calamities? Yes, because they provided an opportunity for the grace of God—for the “power of Christ”—to rest upon and strengthen him. Remember the prayer from yesterday’s devotional: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1)

Here are a few areas where grace is sufficient:

Salvation

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Spiritual Strength

“It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” Hebrews 13:9.

“The grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Titus 2:11-12

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:1

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Service

“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace.” Ephesians 3:7

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Romans 12:6

Conclusion

Since we are saved by grace, are strengthened by grace, and serve by grace—where do we go to find an unlimited supply of God’s grace?

“The only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14-17

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March 23, 2020 – One Essential Prayer

One Essential Prayer

There are many things that make up our prayer life. We pray for health when we or others are sick; we pray for needs to be met; we pray for the salvation or growth of friends and family. We also pray for our own personal struggles—for victory over a particular temptation, or for boldness in sharing the Gospel. We are also always praying for our church—for individual and corporate growth as we worship the Lord together—or, in light of the current circumstances, as we worship the Lord together while physically apart!  In addition, we pray every day for whatever happens to be on our minds and hearts.

Is there one thing that binds these prayers together? I believe that there is—or should be! The Psalmist prayed in Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.”

God has convicted me over the years that this prayer—the prayer that His Name is glorified—should shape all of my prayer life. Jesus himself taught us to begin our prayers this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

I am not in any way saying that God is not interested in the daily details of my life or the situations we find ourselves in; we should of course take all things to him in prayer. My point, rather, is that as the desire to glorify the worthy name of our God increases in my heart, the more I will pray that he is glorified in everything I do, say, or even think—in any and all circumstances.

This is actually one of the unifying themes of Paul’s prayers for the churches he planted or personally ministered to—note 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus exemplified as well as taught this principle. In John chapter 12, when the hour of his suffering and death were rapidly approaching, he said “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (Vs. 27, 28)

Maybe these examples from Scripture should shape all of my prayer life: “Not to me, but to your name give glory;” “Hallowed be your name;”

“Father, glorify your name!”

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