4/27/21

Our First Reading this week is Acts 8:26-40.

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.

The Book of Acts is intended to remind us of what the disciples did after Jesus was no longer with them physically. It should also energize our discipleship to go and do what Jesus has asked of us. These lessons show that those who followed Jesus accepted the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations and went with joy to share the Good News.

In this passage Philip is directed to a person who is seeking to understand God’s Word. We have all experienced trying to find the meaning in Scripture and how difficult it may be. Having another believer to share with is essential. Quiet time alone with God is needed for prayer but serious study requires explanation and discussion.

God calls us to spread His love in the world and to be ready to talk about Scripture and our faith with those who are searching for a connection with Him. Jesus left His ministry in our hands. It is up to us to do the kingdom work here until we are called home.

Loving Lord, we are grateful and humbled to be part of Your plan of salvation. Help us to be strong in faith, gentle in spirit and bold to go where You send us in Your name. Amen.

4/26/21

Our call to worship this week comes to us from Psalm 22:25-31.

From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him. The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord ’s And He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep his soul alive. Posterity will serve Him; It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.

You might not remember that this psalm opens “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” What sounds like despair at the beginning has become confidence and joy at the end. The psalmist reminds us that on our own we are weak but the Lord is mighty and merciful.

We are told that “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations will worship before You” (v. 27). This is hope for everyone, everywhere, not merely a select few. God is ready and waiting for us to renew our relationship.

There is an important responsibility for us given here: “Posterity will serve Him; It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation” (v. 30). We are charged with sharing His love and truth with those who haven’t heard. We accept a connection with God in order to connect the world to Him.

Gracious God, our faith is in You, and without You we are lost. Keep us close to You and make us the voice of invitation to all Your people. Amen.

4/25/21

Our Gospel is John 10:11-18, taken today from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.

Jesus uses this example to show how He loves and cares for us, as a shepherd tends and defends the flock. Like the sheep, we are unable to save ourselves but Jesus stands between us and the evil that waits for us. We must listen to His voice and stay with the flock.

The Good Shepherd leads us to safety and rest. When we wander off, we place ourselves in danger. If we choose our own path, we lose the safety of the flock.

The Good Shepherd comes after those who are lost, seeking to save us from sin and the price it exacts from us and others. He is willing to take the risk in order to rescue us. When we obey Him and remain on the path He has shown us, we are blessed to be part of His kingdom work and help other lost sheep return to the flock.

Shepherd of us all, we are amazed and thankful that You come to save us. Help us to stay near You in safety, away from the danger of sin. Amen.

4/24/21

Our Gospel lesson this week is John 10:11-18, taken today from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.

Jesus tells us “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (v. 16). This points to the Great Commission, by which we are instructed to bring all the world to Christ. No one is to be left out.

While Jesus appeared at the time and place appointed by God, His message is to all people across time. Everyone is blessed by Jesus’ teaching and His sacrifice for us. It is our task to share His love with all people, no matter their location or situation.

Jesus told us it wouldn’t be easy, that we would face opposition just as He did. However, that doesn’t change the call He has placed on our lives. We are the living story of Christ’s love in the world and it is up to us to bring His love to all.

Wise and wonderful God, You sent Your son to save us and make us part of Your kingdom work. Help us to live in faith and love each other as we love You. Amen.

4/23/21

Our Gospel lesson is John 10:11-18, taken today from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. This happens because he is a hired hand and doesn’t care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep. But I have other sheep that are not from this sheep pen; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.

Jesus says something very interesting about His sacrifice for us in verse 18: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again”. Jesus was fully aware of the choice He was making and chose to endure this for us. It is hard to understand that He died for our sake, and harder yet that He died for all.

That’s the part that trips me up sometimes. Jesus dying to forgive me is one thing, that His sacrifice was for even those who executed Him is something else completely. Yet we hear His words “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke‬ ‭23:34‬).

Jesus teaches us a double lesson here – He died for the whole human race and we have no say in who is forgiven. Jesus promised salvation to any that believe in Him, no strings attached. Our opinion has no bearing on this fact.

Gracious God, You sent Jesus to save any who confess Him as Lord. Help us to share the joy of our salvation with the world that all may know Your saving grace. Amen

4/22/21

Our Gospel lesson is John 10:11-18, taken today from the New International Version (NIV).

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Jesus taught us about His role in the kingdom and our relationship with Him using examples from life we could understand. One He used frequently was that of a shepherd and the flock. It gives us a picture of how much He loves us and how much we need His care.

He tells us “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11), a distinct reference to what He has come to do for us. Jesus was fully aware of how God’s plan for salvation would work and that it would result in His death. However He loved God and us so much He was willing to obey.

We may never be called to lay down our lives for God and others, but we must be willing to make the everyday sacrifices necessary. Jesus calls us to change our hearts and lives and help others find the courage to do so as well. Following the path Christ has shown us is the only way we can be saved.

Gracious God, we are thankful for the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Help us to be strong in our faith, sharing the truth of the resurrection with all Your children. Amen.

4/21/21

Our Epistle this week is 1 John 3:16-24.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John tells us something absolutely amazing – “if our hearts condemn us, we know God is greater than our hearts” (v. 20). He reminds us that no matter how badly we fail, God is ready to forgive us when we go to Him in faith. This is the most wonderful promise of all, that Jesus came to save us all from all our sin.

When we accept His forgiveness, we turn from sinful ways and follow His example. Our actions are a response to the love and compassion shown to us, not a payback or a quota of good deeds to be accomplished. Jesus forgave the thief crucified beside Him (Luke 23:43), knowing that he was about to die and would never go to do good deeds.

It’s not about what we do, but what Jesus has done for us. We can never repay His sacrifice, but we have the opportunity to live as He did, loving God and each other. In this way we honor the gift we have been given, salvation in His name.

Gracious God, we are grateful for Your plan to save us from our sin. Help us to live for You, forgiving others as we have been forgiven. Amen.

4/20/21

Our First Reading this week is Acts 4:5-12.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

When Jesus is no longer physically with them, the disciples are comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Acts we hear their testimony of the risen Lord and see their work in His name. They have heard the call He has placed on their lives to go to all people.

The religious leaders are threatened by these words and actions, just as they were by the ministry of Jesus. Afraid of losing their power and position, they question Peter and John about these things, hoping to frighten them into silence and compliance. As we hear, it doesn’t work.

Like the disciples, we may also face criticism and resistance to our sharing the Good News. Even the things we do to help others may be seen as a threat by those who control through fear. Don’t let the ways of the world keep you from the kingdom work Jesus expects of us!

Loving Lord, we face challenges every day from those who oppose You. Help us to see the truth and share it with all Your children. Amen.

4/19/21

Our call to worship this week is Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, 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 runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

This well-known Psalm is often used at memorial services to comfort us in our loss, and it gives us a wonderful promise. However, its truth is also a source of strength for daily living, to know that God is with us in every situation we encounter. His everlasting love will never fail or be taken away from us.

God gives us the assurance of His holy presence no matter what we face here on earth. We may endure the valley of the shadow of death by leaning on His strength. He wants us to understand that our suffering here will not last, but that His blessing is eternal.

God provides a way, leading us through the trials of our lives when we place our trust in Him. Our aim is to stay near Him for blessing, security and rest. By this faith we may dwell in His house forever.

Loving Lord, You alone are mighty to save. Help us to see our own strength is never enough, but through Your love we are made whole again. Amen.

4/18/21

Our Gospel this week is Luke 24:36-48, taken today from the New International Version (NIV).

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

This passage echoes the resurrection appearances in the other Gospel accounts, all telling the same story – Christ is risen and visited those closest to Him that they would believe. There are minor differences in the details perhaps but the truth stands out in each. According to God’s plan, Jesus was raised on the third day and showed Himself to His followers.

Just prior to this in Luke’s gospel, Jesus walks on the road to Emmaus with two of His followers (Luke 24:13-35), and we see a familiar pattern. Jesus comes to them, “opens their minds to the Scriptures”, eats with them and departs. We see the same sequence in this week’s lesson and both mirror the events of the Last Supper.

We can have the same experience, meeting Jesus in worship, hearing the Scriptures discussed, celebrating Communion and then departing to serve Him in our world. This enables us to be connected to Him by faith and energizes our discipleship. We are blessed by Him to carry His love to everyone, everywhere.

Gracious God, make us bold in our witness as the disciples were after Christ’s resurrection. Help us to know Your risen Son and to carry the Good News to all the world.