Your Faith Journey 119

Genesis Chapter 2 reveals that after God created the first man from the dust of the ground, “no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs…Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man” (Genesis 2:20-22 NIV). The Lord created human beings in his image and likeness. During their earliest days in the Garden of Eden, human beings had a special fellowship with God that included trust, flourishing in God’s care, with nothing to hide or be ashamed of because sin had not yet caused division, brokenness, and death.
 
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, connects his gospel account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2. In the Gospel According to John, the beloved disciple includes Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2). During the wedding celebration, “when the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine’” (John 2:3 NIV). Jesus responded to her in a very interesting way. Instead of saying “mother,” he said “Dear woman” (John 2:4). Within John’s gospel Mary is mentioned again when Jesus is dying upon the cross. The gospel writer shares, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son’” (John 19:26 NIV). At the cross Jesus was establishing a new order for family and his followers who are also known as disciples. Although Mary had other children, Jesus’ siblings, one of Jesus’ closest followers was given the responsibility of caring for his widowed mother. The gospel writer shares this in regards to Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple, “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27 NIV).
 
Jesus intends for his disciples to care for widows as if they were their own mother. He also established that through the cross and our faith in Christ, we are a family in and through faith in Christ, united with our fellow believers. One time during his ministry Jesus stated, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50 NIV). The Church is the new family of God that was established in and through Jesus. Our faith in Christ connects all of us to our heavenly Father and to one another as sisters and brothers.

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Your Faith Journey 118

This week, we continue to focus on Jesus’ words while he was being crucified on the cross. One of the two criminals on the crosses next to Jesus “hurled insults at him” (Luke 23:39 NIV). Yet by the grace of God the other criminal recognized that Jesus was innocent and did not deserve to be punished. His words to Christ seem to reveal that he believed that Jesus was the king of a kingdom, death would not be the end for Jesus, and the criminal wanted to be remembered by the one who’s name means, “God saves” (Luke 23:39-42 and Matthew 1:21). Jesus’ reply to him is proof that Christ “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV). Jesus stated, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 NRSV). The Greek word for “paradise” in Luke’s gospel means “a garden,” and it can be thought of as a king’s garden. The paradise that Jesus refers to reminds us of the Garden of Eden before Eve and Adam sinned. Before the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, humans felt no shame, they had an intimacy with God, and they had no unfulfilled needs (Genesis 2). Death, pain, suffering, sin, and loss were not part of life in Eden when the first human beings walked through the garden with the King of Creation, God Almighty. Jesus ensured the criminal next to him that death was not going to be the end, but instead he would be with the King of Creation in Paradise. Christ can do the same thing for us as well. No matter what we have done, said, thought, or should have done but did not, we can be forgiven if we’ll trust in the one who died for our sins.
 
Jesus’ reply to the thief on the cross reveals that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21 NIV). “Everyone” includes those who have waited until their life on earth has almost expired, it includes prodigal sons and daughters, as well as the least, the lost, criminals, and saints. “Everyone” includes you too. Have you placed your faith in Jesus as your Lord, as the source of forgiveness and eternal life, and as your Savior? Everyone who places their trust in Jesus will be saved!

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Your Faith Journey 117

On a Thursday, Jesus ate the Passover Meal with his disciples for the last time. The twelve had spent years listening, watching, and walking with their teacher and friend. Yet that night one of the twelve betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and led a crowd of chief priests, officers of the temple guard, and elders to arrest the Son of God (Luke 22:47-53). Later that night, Simon Peter disowned Christ by stating, “I don’t know him”, when a servant girl claimed that he was one of Jesus’ followers (Luke 22:56-57). The next morning, the Jewish religious leaders confronted Jesus, then took him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in hopes that the Romans would crucify him (Luke 22:66-23:25). Eventually, Pilate surrendered Jesus to the will of the crowd and had Roman soldiers lead Christ to the place where he was to be executed (Luke 23:1-33). On “the place called the Skull”, Jesus was crucified with a criminal on a cross to his right and another criminal on a cross to his left (Luke 23:33 NIV). The gospel writer, Luke, shares this prayer from Jesus as he was hanging on the cross where he would die hours later, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NRSV).
 
Jesus’ prayer was said aloud on behalf of the soldiers who mocked, tortured, and crucified him, the Jewish crowd who yelled for him to be executed on a Roman cross like a criminal, the religious leaders who conspired against him, the disciples who deserted, denied, and betrayed him, as well as for you and all the people of the world. Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins so that we could be forgiven. We didn’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it, but Jesus paid the price for the sins of the world, because God so loved us
(John 3:16-17).

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Your Faith Journey 116

John, one of Jesus’ closest followers, is believed to have written the Gospel According to John, Revelation, and three letters entitled, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. Within the letters, the apostle’s major theme is “love” and he shares Jesus’ command for believers to “love one another” (1 John 3:11 NIV). As John wrote those words, he was sharing the message he heard from Jesus, saw in the life and death of Christ, and experienced with the Son of God. Jesus loved everyone, including his closest followers, as well as his enemies. And Christ commands us to love others. But what does love require of us? According to John, “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” (1 John 3:16 NIV). Love requires giving, serving, and sacrifice. Love seeks what is best for others, no matter who they are.
Jesus surrendered his authority, power, and life to pay the price for our sins as a demonstration of his love for us. When you struggle with laying down your preferences, desires, and will, ask yourself, “Am I living in God?” During times of struggle in regards to loving others, remember that “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16 NLT). To truly love one another we must remain, abide, and live in God.

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Your Faith Journey 115

While in prison, the apostle Paul wrote letters including one to “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1 NIV). His letter to the Philippians shares Paul’s appreciation for what the Christians there did to support him while he was being held captive in a Roman prison. Along with expressing his gratitude, Paul instructs the believers to rejoice no matter what circumstances they face (Philippians 4:4). Rejoicing at all times, including while suffering, is much easier said than done. Yet the apostle Paul shares that he experiences contentment even while in prison because “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV). You, too, can be content in the midst of your circumstances which includes now as we live through a world-wide pandemic. In and through Christ there is peace, contentment, grace, strength, and joy.
 
 
As he concludes his letter, the apostle assures the saints of Philippi that, “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NIV). Rejoice! Our God will meet your needs too. Rejoice! The God of more-than-enough “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV). Rejoice! “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5b NIV).

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Your Faith Journey 114

Luke, the gospel writer, shares that Jesus “selected seventy” of his followers, “and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go. He gave them this charge: “What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands” (Luke 10:1-3 MSG).
 
After their time of serving and sharing God’s message as they traveled in pairs, the seventy disciples returned “with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’” (Luke 10:17 NRSV). Jesus assured them that they had been protected by God, but the real reason to rejoice is “Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing” (Luke 10:20 MSG). Much like the disciples in Luke chapter 10 we can become focused on celebrating what we do for God and what we do to serve others in Jesus’ name. Yet Jesus’ message to them applies to us as well, our reason to rejoice isn’t in what we do, but what God has done for us through his Son, Jesus. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). What an awesome reason to rejoice!

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Your Faith Journey 113

The wise “Teacher” who wrote Ecclesiastes centuries before Jesus was born applied his “mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13 NIV). He thoroughly reflected on what he had seen and experienced and came to the conclusion that, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 NIV)?
 
Life is a gift from God. Our time, experiences, relationships, health, and all that sustains us are gifts from our Creator. The wise Teacher commends the reader to Enjoy Your Life. There are many things outside of our control, but we can choose to enjoy our meals, work, relationships, and the time we are here. Each day provides new opportunities to choose JOY and to thank God for his gifts.

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Your Faith Journey 112

Hebrews 11 points us towards what was done “by faith” by the those who trusted in God. References to them are included throughout the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Abraham traveled by faith towards the Promised Land that had been described to him by the Lord. Eventually, he made his home there. Yet “God had planned something better” for Abraham than what he experienced during his lifetime on earth (Hebrews 11:40). The same is true for us as well. Through faith in Jesus, God has something greater for us too! There have been Christians for nearly two thousand years living by faith with an assurance of what they hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). Through his faith in Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was given a Spirit-inspired dream of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, with men and women, adults, teens, and children of all ages, economic levels, and different races living in peace, united in faith, experiencing the liberty and justice made possible by God. Dr. King and innumerable other believers have been part of the journey walking towards the Promised Land of God’s kingdom come and His will done here on earth as it is in heaven. Just as those who have come before us, we continue the journey towards God’s plan for humanity, a future when we know and love God completely, while loving others as Christ loved us. Thankfully, there are glimpses of it in our world, nation, community, and congregation. But we long for more than what we can see with our eyes during these days and times. So we continue to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” as we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,” knowing that God has something better for us in the future (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV). Amen.

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Your Faith Journey 111

The story of Jesus and the Wise Men (Magi) continues in Matthew 2:
“When they (Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt…for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.” -Matthew 2:13-15a NIV
Just as an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream when Mary was pregnant (Matthew 1:20-21), an angel revealed the threat of death coming for the Son of God during a dream. Matthew, the gospel writer, focused on helping his Jewish audience to understand that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and somewhat like a new Moses. As a baby, Moses’ life was threatened by the Pharaoh of Egypt. His mother placed him in a basket on the Nile River in hopes that an Egyptian would find her Hebrew baby, save him, and raise him as her own child. By the grace of God, baby Moses was found and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.
Parents and grandparents, what does the Lord want you to do to protect the hearts, minds, bodies, and souls of the children he has entrusted to your care? If you don’t know, pray for God to reveal his will to you.
If you are not a parent or grandparent, what can you do to help protect and care for children in need? Ask the Lord to reveal how you can help.

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Your Faith Journey 110

Matthew, one of the four gospel writers, shares the story of the Magi visiting Jesus as a young child:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-2 NIV
 
Are you seeking the king of the Jews? He is the King of kings.
 
What led you to Jesus? If you are a Christian, God wants you to be a light that leads others to Christ.
 
The Magi worshiped Jesus. What or who are you worshiping?
 
The Magi offered Jesus gifts. What are you offering to the Lord?

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