Friday, December 4, 2015

Mt. Pleasant Church of the Brethren Newsletter, "The Right Hand Of Fellowship" pastor's article for December 2015

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
Luke 2:14 (ESV)
            “Peace”.  You’ll see it on Christmas cards, lit up in Christmas lights; it is the theme of this Sunday’s Advent candle lighting.  What is it about that word that is tied to the message of Christmas?  We might think of a quiet peaceful day with snow falling, and the winds are calm.  We might think of a candle burning quietly in the stillness, but is that what this is about?  What connection does peace have with Christmas, and it must be a strong connection, because the angels made mention of it in their proclamation?
            Let’s read the rest of that line, “and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”  So peace here has something to do with God being pleased with us.  Now think of the relationship of the Jews prior to Christ.  If there was a word to use to describe their relationship with God, it would probably not be peace.  Fear, reverence, awe, appreciation, might all be words that come to mind, but especially with previous generations living through the time of exile to Babylon, and then for the previous 400 years, hearing nothing from God, peace was probably not a word that would come to mind when they thought of Him.
            Peace has to do with a sense of calmness, free from anxiety, a lack of worry.  They had not known much of peace nor the favor of God since the days of Solomon.  Their relationship with God had boiled down to a long list, (made longer by the scribes and Pharisees), of things to do or not do.  It had become all about outward appearances with little compassion for those of more meager standing, whether along religious or financial status. 
            How is it that they were to be able to have this peace while still here on earth?  How was it that they might become pleasing to God?  That is the beauty of this long awaited Messiah.  He came as the answer to our sin problem—purchasing our forgiveness through the sacrifice of His own blood.  Not that we immediately gain the ability to live a sinless life, but that through faith in Him we are declared righteous, or sinless before our Holy Father, and thus need not fear the judgment that was very deservedly ours.
            It is completely right that we should fear and tremble before a God who is completely holy, and by His righteous nature must carry out the proper punishment for all of us who are by nature sinners rebelling against His perfect will.  To think that on our own, outside of Christ, that we might offer some kind of defense for our behavior to this holy God is ridiculous when you think about it.  We could never offer anything to God, no matter how hard we might try, that would save us from the wrath of His anger in regard to our sin, because in God’s economy, blood has to be shed in order for sin to be forgiven.  Someone has to die for sin to be punished.  It may seem severe, but only when you don’t understand the holiness of God.
            1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  Propitiation is simply defined as our means of forgiveness.  So we could translate the verse to read: “… that He loved us and sent His Son to be the means of forgiveness for our sins.”  That is how God chose to extend peace on the earth among those with whom He is pleased.  This is the importance of the term “peace” for the believer in Christ at Christmas.  For those still without a faith relationship with Christ, peace with God remains elusive and unattainable.  Know Christ, and know peace.  No Christ, no peace.
By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, November 6, 2015

“Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; and the moon and starts to rule over the night;…”

Psalm 136:3-9 (ESV)
            My personal preference, (for what little that is worth) is to not appreciate as much songs that are excessively repetitive.  That being the case, when this Psalm was a part of my Bible Reading program, I was tempted to just read the portions between the repetitive lines and forgo the rest.  Instead of that, I remembered that when in Scripture we see something repeated, it is done for emphasis, and we should interpret it that way.  So I forced myself to read this Psalm thoroughly and thoughtfully.   Actually by the time I was halfway through it, I was reading the verses, and inserting the word “why” before the repeated line, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”
            Look back up to the verses above, and try that.  “Give thanks to the Lord of lords.  [Why?]  For his steadfast love endures forever.”  When we read through the rest of the Psalm, asking that question each time, perhaps we understand more of the heart of the Psalmist who wrote it.  He had much to give thanks to God for, and over and above all the various things that He has done was this underlying reason, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”
            It is good for us from time to time, as we are apt to do this month, and reflect on the goodness of God, and how He has reached out to us, and ______ (you fill in the blank).  If we were to stop then, and ask the question, “why would God do all this for us?” We cannot conclude that it was because we deserve it, because quite honestly we don’t.  We must look back at His goodness, His mercy, His grace, His provision and state that it is because of His steadfast love that endures forever that He has continued to extend these and other blessings upon us.
            I invite you to pull out your Bible, and read through this Psalm thoughtfully and carefully, reading each line, and skipping nothing.  Perhaps we don’t associate as well with the lines related to Israel’s early days, but hopefully the closing verses will speak to us more directly.  “It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever; he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever; Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (23-26)
            So when you and your family get together this Thanksgiving Day, or at other times when you’re reflective about God’s goodness to you, don’t forget to consider that it’s because His “steadfast love endures forever” that we are able to look back and give thanks.  His love for us has never wavered, regardless of our obedience, our lack of attention to His Word, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
            In the world of uncertainty that we live in, in the world of cultural shift where Christianity is more often mocked in the media than celebrated, in a world where terrorism threatens our peace of mind on so many fronts, remember that “His steadfast love endures forever.”  In times of peace and prosperity or of war and poverty, remember that “His steadfast love endures forever.”  And that is something to be truly thankful for.
By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pastor's Desktop Article for October 2015

“This saying is trustworthy, and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”
1 Timothy 1:15-16 (ESV)
            We have some really great discussions in our Wednesday Evening Bible Study.  I’m glad to have a group of folks who are interested in digging into the Word, and growing together as we do so.  This past week, as we were discussing Romans 1:5-11, I took us on a brief “rabbit trail” to Matt. 25:31 and following, where Jesus is telling about the separating of the sheep and the goats.  All too often, we see a passage like this and say, “I need to look more like a sheep then so that I get to enjoy the reward, because the goats don’t fare so well in this story.”  That’s not the point of the story at all.  Jesus is saying that because those represented by the sheep are recognized by their actions for the faith they possessed that caused them to respond to the needs before them.
            For most people in the world, seeing someone else’s need and responding to it out of love doesn’t come naturally.  Our natural inclination is to look out for ourselves, and maybe for those close to us that we relate to easily.  For those whose nature has been changed supernaturally by the grace of God working in us through His Holy Spirit, we tend to see the world differently.  We still have to fight against our selfish will more often that we would like, but there is another voice inside of us, another set of eyes, that cause us to respond differently than we would have prior to coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
            What got me wondering a bit was how small that group seems to be in a world that is so set against that.  Then I remembered how Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, about the wide and narrow gates.  “Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Do we who have come to faith realize how precious a gift that faith is, and not only did we not deserve it, but the initiative for our faith was God’s doing, and not our own?
            A hymn came to my mind, sometime later after that Bible Study that seems to not be terribly familiar, in fact, I could not find it in any hymnal I have, but finally found the lyrics online.  It was written by C. Bishop, and called Such Love. I’ll just include the first verse and chorus.  “That God should love a sinner such as I, Should yearn to change my sorrow into bliss, Nor rest till He had planned to bring me nigh, How wonderful is love like this?  Such love, such wondrous love, Such love, such wondrous love, That God should love a sinner such as I, How wonderful is love like this.”
            Perhaps no one else who reads this will remember this old hymn, (though I suspect someone might) and I can’t even remember where I have sung it, but it sums up Paul’s sentiments in the 1 Timothy passage above, and my heart as I reflected on how blessed I am, how blessed any of us are to have come to faith in Christ, and to avoid what will truly be for many on that Day, a horrible reality in eternity.
            I know how undeserving I am of that kind of love, and if you’re anything like me, you’re in the same boat.  So to use the words of Charles Wesley’s more well-known hymn, And Can It Be, “Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”  Take some time today to reflect on the incredible grace of God.
By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, July 31, 2015

August 2015 Desktop atricle

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying ‘This is the way, walk in it’, when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”
(Isaiah 30:20-21  ESV)
            The latter part of this passage was our key verse for this past week of VBS, and a great lesson for the kids to learn, but I think there is something in there for the adults as well.  Our daily theme for Thursday was to “Stay on Track”.  Even when the way is uncertain, even when others might try to pull us in a different direction, we are to stay on track.
            The song that went along with that theme encouraged us to “stay on track, never look back, keeping our eyes on Jesus!”  There are so many things that the devil uses to try to discourage us, to distract us, to raise doubts and fears in our minds.  If we allow ourselves to become preoccupied by those things, we get off track, and not only is our work for Him diminished, but our minds can become so troubled that we end up being paralyzed, unable to make any headway for a time.
            Part of the benefit of belonging to a local church is that we can help each other to stay on track.  When life gets difficult, or extremely busy, or for whatever reason we are away for a period of time, the body is there to come along side, and help us to get back on track, help us through the difficult periods, and keep moving forward in our walk with God.
            When the church comes together to work together in this way, it is the added benefit of us putting aside some of the less important things that we can become focused on that are not really a part of us reaching our goal as a church—which is to see lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.  We can get wrapped up in temporary things which, in light of eternity, really aren’t significant.  But when we set those aside, and focus on caring for one another, helping one another, helping share the love of Christ together, all those lesser things are left behind.
            I’m reminded of another hymn, this one written by Helen Lemmel in 1922:  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
            Our daily themes from Lifeway’s Journey Off the Map VBS were: Know your Guide, Follow Your Guide, Trust your Guide, Stay on Track, and Keep Watching”.  We need to know who our Guide is, and only Jesus can guide us where we need to go.  We need to follow that guide, as it isn’t enough to know who He is, we need to follow Him.  We need to trust that He knows the right way, even when we are pressured to go a different way.  We need to stay on track, because life throws lots of distractions our way to get us to take unhealthy detours.  And finally we need to keep watching, watching for further instructions as God draws us closer to Him, and watching for Him to return for us to take us home with Him, as He has promised.
            These were great themes for VBS, but they’re not just for the little children.  Those themes are great themes for us as adults to live by as well.  It may well be that the Lord will allow adversity and/or affliction to come our way, but His goal, even in this, is to draw us close to Himself so that we would come to lean and depend on Him more and more.  He is a trustworthy God, who keeps His promises, and always has our best in mind.  We can trust that He knows what the best is ultimately for us. 
By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen