Familiarity

Familiarity. We like familiarity. We like things that are familiar to us. As we read Psalm 139 we can’t help but realize that we are familiar to God our Creator. After all, He made us – He created us. He created us to have a relationship with Him. In that relationship, He knows everything about us.

That’s familiarity. In last month’s newsletter we began looking at familiar passages of Scripture – God’s Word to us. We looked at Psalm 23 – the Shepherd Psalm. And while the words of the first paragraph come from Psalm 139, we will look at that Psalm in the months ahead. Instead, I wanted to take a closer look at another passage familiar to us: John 14:1-6. Here is that passage:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus has but a short time left before His crucifixion. He knows it, but His disciples do not, so He tries to comfort them. He assures them that His death and resurrection will happen – they will take place – they must take place, as God the Father completes His love for us through His Son. Jesus will pay the ultimate price for us – losing His life so that God may gain us – His chief creation, really the reason He created
anything and everything. For us. Wow – He loves us that much!

There are so many key parts to this passage – too many for us to completely cover in one page of a newsletter. So, we’ll hit some key points:
1) “Do not be troubled.” We have a lot of troubling things we face in our lifetime. One of them is our own mortality. What happens after our dying? While the disciples are probably not thinking of this as Jesus speaks to them, it is something we all face. In this, Jesus tells us to not be troubled by it – there is life beyond our earthly life. Jesus died in order that we can have what we were ultimately created for – His death conquered our sin and our dying, to restore our relationship with God, broken by our sin.
Eternal life – in the very presence of our Creator!
2) “I go and prepare a place for you.” Where is Jesus going? First, He is going to die – to be crucified. He’s going to pay the ultimate price for our sin – His own death. He willingly went to the cross for us. He died that our sin would be forgiven and no longer held against us. Our separation from God, created by the sins we commit, is no longer there. Our relationship with Him – ours because He created us – is restored. What we could never accomplish is accomplished for us on the cross. Jesus died and rose again
– our place with Him was prepared almost 2,000 years ago. Amazing!

3) “I am the Way.” While I preached a couple of Sundays ago, I listed our church’s Core Beliefs – what we believe. What we believe about Jesus is that He is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life. That statement embodies the truth we find in John 14:6. In this lone verse is the truth that is much more than a claim. It is reality. It is what truly is – Jesus Christ is the Savior, of us and all humankind – yesterday, today and tomorrow. We gain our restored relationship with God the Father only because God rescued
and restored us through the death and resurrection of His Son. There is no other way this is accomplished – no other name by which we are saved (see Acts 4:12). Again, how amazing!

How amazing is God’s love for us! Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us – the words of a song of praise. Words that are reality. Words that are ours. Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us so much that You gave your life, that we might be saved. Amazing!

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Psalm 23

During the remainder of the year we will be looking at familiar passages
of Scripture – passages that we’ve known for a long time, ones we have
built our faith upon, ones we might even be able to recall from our
childhood years. These passages have deep meaning for us and have
served as the foundation for our relationship with our Lord.
Today, we’re going to look again at Psalm 23 – the Shepherd Psalm.
Read these familiar words again:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet
waters, He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, You anoint my head with oil, my cup
overflows.
Surely goodness, mercy and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the
Lord forever.
I first learned and memorized that passage in the King James version, later in the Revised Standard Version, still later in the New International Version. What I listed above is from memory, sort of a melding together of all three versions. Let me point out some key phrases that have meant so much to me over the years.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want – God will supply all my needs, I will want for nothing. God will
give us all that we need. Indeed, He gave us His only Son – every single sin I’ve committed is forgiven. He has restored His relationship with me.
He makes me lie down in green pastures – sheep sleep while lying down. Green grass is so much softer than brown grass.

God gives me rest – rest from the day’s trying situations, peace from the tensions this world brings upon me. He is my strength and shield.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake – the world tells us to live a particular way, certainly different from what we read in God’s Word. His path is to love Him and to love my neighbor – in comparison, nothing else matters. Imagine what our world would be like if each of us did this!
Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil – there is much to fear in our world. Our enemy is hard at work, seeking to keep people from the God who created them – created them in is image, and to have an everlasting relationship with them. Our Lord continues to teach me what it means to
live with Him, to walk with Him, to talk with Him – and to listen to Him. Paul reminds me and you – nothing else matters but Jesus, His Son!
You prepare a table before me – we’ve been invited to the Great Banquet – a feast, a meal that God has lovingly put together for us – for me. In our world of McDonalds and Taco Bell, God has provided an everlasting meal for us. For the Hebrew, nothing is more sacred than the mealtime – God’s relationship to us, to me, is the best I will ever have. His table is full. Jesus says to us to feast at the Lord’s table (read Luke 14).
Surely goodness, mercy and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever – I am so thankful for His promise to me (and to you) that nothing can separate me from His love. I get to walk with Him each and every day. Each and every day I get to experience His love, His grace, His mercy.

Join me this month in beginning each day with this Psalm. Read it, pray about it, think over each verse, each truth, each promise. Let it make a difference in your life. Moreover, let Him be the difference in your life.

Stewardship

The job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an
organization or property.” That’s a definition I found online about the
word “Stewardship.” I’d like us to take a few minutes to think about
that definition, to what it means to you and me and to our church, as we
live out our faith in following our Lord Jesus Christ.
Taking care of something – often, when we hear the word
“Stewardship” our minds directly go to money. We’ve all seen the
advertisements for Capital One – “what’s in your wallet?” We’re
groomed from a very early age about possessions. There’s the cute
definition of “Mine” from a baby’s point of view. A few of them are:

If I like it, it’s mine.
If I’m holding it, it’s mine.
If you’re holding it and I want it, it’s mine.
If you were playing with it and put it down, it’s mine.
If I gave it to you and have since changed my mind, it’s mine.
But there’s a big difference between “Mine” – that is, it belongs to you and me, and “stewardship” – that it belongs to God, who has entrusted it to you and me. And while there are differences between the two, the one thing they have in common is that in both, we’re the responsible party.
The parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-26) tells us about the importance of what we do with what God has entrusted to us. We begin with the premise that everything we have is from God – our own lives, our families, our jobs, our possessions – everything. And everything includes our relationship with God through Jesus. It includes the presence and power of His Holy Spirit in us and around us. In the parable, Jesus teaches about the responsibility each of us have, to wisely use what we have from God – our faith and relationship with Him, our possessions that He’s entrusted to us, our relationships with each other – and our church and its ministries and mission. In the midst of this, He has given us spiritual gifts and talents – unique things that are ours to use for
Him and for each other.
All of it falls under the umbrella of being good stewards – good stewards of His grace to us in Jesus Christ, and in using our relationships and possessions for His glory and for the good of those around us – our families, our church family, our friends, neighbors – everyone! In that stewardship is our faith – our daily walk with God, our prayer life, our worship of Him, and how we share our relationship with Him with others around us.
And in that stewardship are our possessions – realizing that all we have belongs to God and it is our responsibility to use those possessions wisely and generously, all for God’s glory and honor.
Using them wisely and generously means recognizing the needs of those around us – remembering the poor, the elderly, those less fortunate. Good stewardship is providing generously for their needs. Using our possessions wisely and generously means recognizing the ministry needs around us as well – people need Jesus, it’s as simple as that. They need Him as their Lord and Savior. They need Him as their friend.
They need to realize that need – and we need to share it with them – not only on Sunday mornings, but any and every other day of the week.
Pray about your possessions – recognize that they are God’s possessions, given to us to use responsibly and generously for Him and for His church. Orenco Church has so much to do – and relies solely on the generosity of its members and friends to financially accomplish the work God has called us to do. And in advance of  your tithes and offerings, thank you!

Spiritual Warfare

“Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from
you.” (James 4:7)
June 2018 starts our sermon series called Surrounded. During these
next 6 weeks, we’ll be looking at Spiritual Warfare – the battle we
often find ourselves in-the-midst-of.
So just what is Spiritual Warfare? Some Christians look at the
demonic opposition that some face – realizing that Satan and his use
of the demonic world are at war against God, and therefore, against
we who are believers. While this is biblically true and correct, I also
feel it is a “war” we are in, in our everyday lives, and in question is
whether or not we are following God or living for ourselves. I
believe Satan is subtle, sneaky, conniving, and many other things as he seeks to deceive us. I believe he cannot take us from God, but he can try to lead us to where we are ineffective and stagnant in our relationship with God, and with others.
There’s a good reason we have the Great Commandment – to love God with all our being. And Jesus told us the 2nd is like the first – love your neighbor as yourself. Part of spiritual warfare is the realization that Satan (our enemy) doesn’t want us to succeed in either of those relationships. So he attacks us where we are most vulnerable – where we are weak and often times unable to defend ourselves.
We begin our look at Spiritual Warfare with Romans 7, beginning at verse 21:
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”
I believe Satan tries to lull us into a state of complacency, meaning that we take lightly the power of sin in our lives. It is sin that takes our focus away from following God, from serving God, from the relationship that God created us to have with Him. Part of Satan’s lie to us is that we can deal with our sin on our own – Romans 7 tells us otherwise, that only God can deliver us from Satan, and it’s through His Son our Savior Jesus Christ that this deliverance occurs. That we are “slaves” to sin should show us our need for God’s rescue through Jesus. Without His rescue means we cannot (and will not) love God first and foremost, nor will we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves.
You don’t want to miss a single Sunday in this sermon series. Be sure to read through the various scripture passages, as we prepare to be winners in this battle. Amen!
Mark

He Is

One of the most important scriptures you and I must read is
parts of chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. I
encourage each of us to read it, to think about it, to let it be the
core of what we build our faith on. Here’s what Paul says . . .
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all
creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and
on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or
rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him
and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold
together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the
beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in
everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to
have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil
behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (1:15-23)
It is here that we see a clear picture of Jesus – of who He was, and most importantly, of who He is. He was with God the Father at creation – He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. We were reconciled to God by Jesus making peace with God through his death – his blood shed on the cross.
We were once separated from God – enemies of God is how Paul defines our situation. But through Christ’s death and resurrection we are presented to God without blemish and free from accusation. There is no hint of our sin – it is all done away with – accomplished not by our means but completely and eternally through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
Paul ends this section of his letter – this is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to everyone – and of which I have become a servant. His call is the church’s call – it is our call, and our privilege. Together, let us joyfully serve our Lord and our community, proclaiming His truth, His grace, and His peace – our forgiveness and our eternal life with God the Father, to the glory of His Son, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.

God Completes It

Billy Graham once said, “For the believer there is hope
beyond the grave, because Jesus Christ has opened the
door to heaven for us by His death and resurrection.”
As important as Christmas Day and the birth of our Savior
Jesus Christ is, it is Easter that completes God’s redemptive
work. Let’s look more closely at God’s gift to us
through His Son.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.”
While we would like to think we have a hand in our salvation (and to a point we do), it is
God who initiates AND completes the work of our being saved. Yes, it is we who answer
God’s call, but it is God’s Holy Spirit who empowers us to say “yes” to His call to us.
It is God’s work in Christ His Son that initiates the work of our being saved from our sin.
God, in His grace, sent Jesus to live among us, to teach us, to die for us, to pay through His
death the penalty for our sin. It is God who raised Jesus from death to life, and it that same God the Father who raises us from death to life, because Jesus paid our penalty – in full.What we could have never accomplished, God did – and we reap the benefits of His grace to us.

For this reason alone, we, who had no hope, now have all hope. I love God’s Word to us in Jeremiah 29:11 – “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.” We have a future –life today, and eternal life with God. We have this, not because we could do anything to attain it, because we can’t – we have it because God, in His love, sacrificed His Son. Jesus endured the cross on our behalf – a cross meant for us – a cross we deserved.

Instead of hopelessly lost, we are found, never to be lost again. John 10:28 says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” No one – all because God rescued us through His Son – He died for us, and God raised Him from death – our victory over our sin and over death.
I’m writing this, looking forward to Easter Sunday. Join with us as we worship the risen
Jesus Christ! “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” Psalm
107:1.

Periodically

How important is the church to you? That’s a question I think
each of us should periodically ask ourselves. Why “periodically” do
you ask? And why use the word “important”? These are two areas I
want to talk about this month, as we consider the part that we
individually play in the ministry and mission of the Orenco
Presbyterian Church.
Periodically. The dictionary defines this word as “from time to
time” and “at regularly occurring intervals.” How we carry out the
meaning of this word is indicative of how we live. For example,
how often we worship can be characterized as periodically –
meaning that we either attend regularly, or from time to time. We
either attend worship services most every Sunday (regularly) or once
or twice each month (from time to time). How often we bring an
offering to God can be characterized in the same way.
Other areas of our life with God can fall into the same definition: how often we pray, how often we’re looking to serve in some capacity of the church’s ministry and mission – the characteristics that describe the word “periodically” are played out in how we live.
But I find that the second word important carries more weight, as to how we live out our lives for the sake of God’s ministry and mission. One of the definitions of “important” is “of great significance or value.” The Merriam/Webster Dictionary defines important as “marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence: valuable in content or relationship.”
Of significant worth or consequence. The Apostle Paul spoke of what was important to him, concerning his relationship to Jesus Christ – “for me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). To Paul, nothing else mattered. That was his encouragement to us. That is his encouragement to me.
How important is the ministry and mission of the Orenco Presbyterian Church? It is of utmost importance. I don’t think this just because I work here, but because Jesus has commissioned us to do His work – His ministry and mission. Just as He told His original disciples to “Go and make disciples,” He likewise today tells us to do the same. And just as Paul said that compared to his relationship to Jesus Christ nothing else mattered, that same encouragement and emphasis is for us today – that nothing else matters when we compare it to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord (see Philippians
3:1-14).
So the question for each of us is how do we live out our relationship to our Lord? For the answer we give is, in turn, the answer we give to how important is it that the Orenco Presbyterian Church carries out its ministry and mission for the sake of Jesus Christ. How well our church does this depends on you and me –both in terms of periodically and importance. Paul encouraged us to be like him – not because he was
great, but because he sought Jesus – first and only.

I have found that I must regularly ask myself this question: what have I placed above my relationship to Jesus? What must I do to put Him first in all areas of my life? That involves my time, my talents, and my treasure. Is God the Lord of these areas in my life? Is He the Lord in our life?
May each of us tithe to God in each of these three areas: for Time, may God see me joining in corporate worship on a regular, weekly basis. For Talent, may I seek that God uses the talents and spiritual gifts He gave to me for Him. And for Treasure, may I seek to regularly give the first 10th of my income to Him. And may I strive to do all three of these – time, talent and treasure – for His glory and praise. Amen.