November 20 – Red Letters – “Love the Lord your God.”

Read Matthew 22:37-40

There is love, truth and hope in the red letters.

What if we learned to love God and one another with nothing in return?

A musician named Noel Regney walked through the streets of Manhattan. He had just seen hopelessness and pain on the faces of the people that he passed on the street. It was 1962. There was a war of words and government operations called The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War was approaching the nuclear boiling point! The Soviet Union had missiles in Cuba, capable of striking the USA, just 90 miles away. It was the Cuban Missile Crisis. There were underground bunkers and tunnels that were built in both countries for protection. It was a place to hide.

Regney came home from his walk and, along with his wife, Shayne, wrote the carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Together. It is now a Christmas favorite. This carol’s lyrics are about the baby Jesus, loving God and praying for peace.

“Listen to what I say, pray for peace people everywhere.”

To love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength is to love God with everything you have to give.

WITH ALL OF YOUR HEART

The heart is the seat of affections in the Bible (Psalms 62:10b). It is also the seat of intellect (Genesis 6:5b) and of the will (Psalms 119:2b).  The heart is a muscular organ which pumps blood through the blood vessels of our circulatory system. Jesus is talking about loving God with all your heart, all your affection, all your intellect and all your will. Are you “all in?”

WITH ALL OF YOUR SOUL

With praise:

“Praise the Lord, oh my soul.” (Ps 101:1)

With priorities:

“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt 26a)

Without fear:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matt 10:28)

WITH ALL OF YOUR MIND

Fix your eyes on Jesus (Heb 3:1). Be thankful.  Keep Jesus Christ in the front of your mind! Spend time in the scriptures every day.

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF

Do you pray for your neighbor? Can you bring goodness and light to your neighbor?

There is love in the red letters.

There is truth in the red letters.

There is hope for the hopeless,

peace and forgiveness!

There is life in the red letters.

Tom Weckesser

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November 19 – Red Letters – “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”

Read Mark 12:17

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching we start to think about the things we are thankful for. You might have even joined a Thanksgiving challenge on social media where each day in November you post one thing that you are thankful for. Your list might include names of friends, family members, maybe even your crazy Uncle Joe who you only see once a year at Thanksgiving.  Your extended list might include your pets, your school, your job, your home, and your health.

The Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving were thankful just to be alive.  They had come through a really rough year of uncertainty when many of their friends and family had died through sickness.

Sound familiar?

Why don’t you take a minute and make your own list of things you are thankful for, if you haven’t done so already. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now, go back over your list and put a check mark beside all the things on your list that were given to you by God.  There might be things on there that you obtained through hard work, but who gave you the ability to know what to do or the strength to get up each day to go to work?

Does your list include unseen things like your talents and abilities? How many of those talents are you giving back to God? Are you really good at explaining things?  So, are you using that to tell people about the love of God?  Are you good at talking to new people and making them feel welcome?  So, are you inviting people to church or serving as a greeter?  Are you good at music? Do you sing God’s praises in the choir or praise team?  The list of your talents could go on and on, but the question is:” What are you doing with them?”

Are you giving them back to God?

One thing that I am pretty sure is NOT on your list is paying taxes.  Nobody likes to pay taxes.  That was true back in Jesus’ time and is pretty much true today too.  Jesus looked at a coin and asked whose face was on it.  When the religious leaders replied “Caesar,” that is when He said, “Give onto Caesar what is Caesars!” In other words, pay your taxes.

Our money is similar in that on it there are pictures of Presidents and important people, but there is one thing different about our currency.  On the back is our country’s motto, “In God We Trust.” How often have you noticed it?  How much do you believe it?  Do you trust God with your life, your money and with all of the things on your list?  If not, why not?  Why not take a few minutes right now to give all of the people and things on your list back to God?  Ask Him to show you how you can start to trust Him fully with all you have including your money, your time, your talents and your life!

Then you will truly be giving unto God what is God’s!

Pat Arnold

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November 18 – Red Letters – “I have overcome the world!”

Read John 16:33

What better verse to be reminded of at a time like this in our country and the world!

In order to understand verse 33, you have to read the entire chapter and I challenge you to do so.

“…Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning…” (vs.4)

Whether it has been in the last few weeks or sometime in your life, I bet there was a point where hope may have been lost, or the next steps or future unclear. Well, that was certainly the case for the followers and disciples of Jesus.

In all of chapter 16, He spends the time not only warning them of what is to come, but also encouraging them with the power and strength that they will have in the help that is to come after Jesus has ascended into Heaven. What they can overcome because He has already overcome. He is encouraging them that the suffering which may come to them is only for a while.

He is reminding them that, even though darkness rises, He rises higher.

He is our hope because He has overcome the world.

When I think of this world, here are just a few things that come to my mind:  fear, anxiety, depression, miscarrying our second child, addiction, sadness, hurt people hurting people, unfairness… I mean, that’s just a few.  I am sure there are more that you can think of. May I remind you though, if you are a follower of Jesus, this is not your true home. We are more than conquerors!

When the time comes for us to ascend to be with Jesus forever, everything that we have on this earth disappears, and, with that, so will be the hurt and suffering we have experienced or will experience.

Jesus has overcome this world.

I don’t know about you, but with what is going on or has gone on in our country alone, this is a great encouragement. Listening to Jesus’ words, that this is not forever, is something I am constantly reminding myself of as well as my friends and family.

God is not surprised by anything that happens, though it isn’t His best for us. It’s because of this broken world we go through it, and, just as John 16 says, He has gifted us with His spirit to cling to in order for us to conquer through.

So, as John 16 says, remember the warning. Remember the power that Jesus has for overcoming this world and that you are a child of God. Remember that this is not your true home and remember that, no matter what is to come, God is not surprised because Jesus has overcome it and He is with us through it.

Kelly Lawson

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November 17 – Red Letters – “It’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick.”

Read Luke 5:31-32

I have volunteered at a local hospital emergency room for the past 10 years. People that come in are often very sick. Sometimes they’re on the verge of death. The Emergency Squad brought in a man one day who had a heart attack downtown near an ATM machine. I worked along with a nurse and gave the man CPR.

I have seen people sick with pertussis, emphysema, diabetes, epilepsy, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, influenza, pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and more. These people really need a doctor. People come into the ER who have been beaten up. You just never know what type of sickness the next person who comes into the ER might be experiencing.

Other times people come in and doctors can’t figure out why they came into the Emergency Room. They have a hangnail or need a band aid. Some people come in looking for illegal drugs because they are drug addicts and they make up a story that their back hurts. Some people come in who are not sick. They do not need a doctor.

I have seen people who are spiritually sick at the ER. They have had a difficult or even traumatic experience and they do not know what to do or where to turn. This is what Jesus meant when He said that healthy people do not need a doctor, but the sick do. Unbelievers are “spiritually sick” because they are separated from the Lord and stand in need of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

He is the cure!

They need a doctor. They may be someone who knows nothing about Jesus Christ. Just like I know nothing about birds. The cure is to build their life on the timeless truth of the teaching of Jesus. You know – the red letters of Jesus’ words. The cure is the knowledge that all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

Jesus said, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12–13). Jesus compares Himself to a doctor who had come to help those who are sick. Matthew was a patient in need of healing. The sickness was sin, and Jesus was the doctor.

Regarding people who are spiritually sick, the Bible says they are more than sick – they are dead.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” -Ephesians 2:1

Believers may also be spiritually sick in that they are living in unconfessed sin or do not pursue Christian spiritual growth. Do you need a doctor?

Tom Weckesser

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November 16 – Red Letters – “…deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Me.”

Read Mark 8:34-37

Large crowds were following Jesus.  He was healing the sick, bringing life to the dead.  Even at the touch of His clothes, a woman had been healed.  He had fed over 5,000 men miraculously and shortly after had miraculously fed over 4,000 men.  I’m sure it would have been amazing to witness these miracles or to have food in your stomach and be part of this crowd.  But Jesus was about to separate those who were fans from those who were His followers.  The fans wanted to witness and experience.  If you wanted to be a disciple, a true follower of Jesus, there was a cost involved.

In today’s reading, Jesus calls the crowd, along with the disciples, to Himself and drops a total game changer on everyone.  In Mark 8:34, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

It was more than being part of the crowd of spectators.  It was more than partaking in His miraculous feast.  It was more than simply hearing His amazing sermons.  It was total and complete life transformation.  First, He says to deny yourself.  Cease to put yourself as the object of your life and your actions and make following Him your priority.  And that is not all.  “Take up your cross”.  The Romans made the condemned criminals carry their own cross piece, on which they would be nailed, to the place in which they would be put to death.

Taking up your cross included being willing to suffer and possibly die for the sake of following Jesus.  Here in the United States, we do not face much, if any, persecution for our faith. However, all over the world, people have faced beatings and martyrdom since the very beginning of Christianity.  Following Jesus may result in costing us our very lives.  And there is one more thing:  Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Think for a moment about being somewhere you have never been.  There is just one guide, one person who can lead you where you need to go.  You cannot take your eyes off of them as they lead you on the path to where you are going.  You have no idea what you may pass on your journey to where you are headed, but, if you don’t follow closely, you can easily get distracted or even lost along the way.  Follow Jesus in such a manner that you don’t let Him out of your sight.

The great pastor Billy Graham once said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you everything.”  German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed right before the end of World War II, wrote in his powerful book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”.  These things may seem harsh but, as Jesus tells us in today’s reading, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (their life)”.

Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.

Nate Mills

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November 15 – Red Letters – “Whoever drinks from the water I give them will never thirst again.”

Read John 4:13-14

“I’m dying of thirst!”  are the words we cry out as we wipe the sweat from our brow on a sweltering, summer day. Nothing quenches our thirst like a drink of water. Cool. Refreshing. Rejuvenating. Life giving. But temporary. We would be foolish to think that one drink will satisfy and sustain us for the rest of life. Absolutely not. It’s a daily necessity. We know that and she knew that. As she repeated the daily task of drawing water from the well, I can picture her confused and astonished face when Jesus told her that He had living water to give her so she would never thirst again.

With Jewish roots, she probably was familiar with the story of Moses and the miraculous way God provided water for the parched Israelites. Exodus 17 says that God stood before Moses on the rock, instructed him to strike the rock and water came out for the people to drink. She didn’t understand that the One who stood before her was both the Rock and the Living Water.

The source and the sustenance.

Come to the source, the Rock, the spiritual rock who is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4) who was struck and afflicted on the cross. Out of that Rock flows rivers of living water for you and me. Spiritual life-giving water that quenches the thirst our soul longs for. He is the Living Water that sustains us because He becomes in us a well of water springing up to eternal life.

Once we come to the source of the Living Water and receive our life-giving sustenance, He wants us to joyously draw water from the springs of salvation (Isaiah 12:3) and be an evergreen. As Jeremiah says, we do not need to fear when heat comes because we will never dry up. Our life is like a tree planted close to the water with roots that extend into the stream. Our leaves will be green and we will not cease to bear fruit. We are a river to others, always flowing from the source of our salvation, the Living Water, Jesus Christ.

Are you thirsty for more than this life here on earth has to offer? Jesus pleads for you to ask Him, and He will give you Living Water. Are your roots deep in the stream of His living water? Are you an evergreen or are you looking more like a dry and brittle bush? Come to the water, the Living Water. He is the source and sustenance of life and we never have to die of thirst again!

 Charline Engle

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November 14 – Red Letters – Leaving the 99 for the 1

Read Matthew 18:12-14

“Where is George?”

That is what I found myself saying several times a day a couple of years ago in my kindergarten classroom.  You see, I had a very sweet little boy in my class named George, who had a tendency to, as they say, “march to his own drummer.”  Consequently, every time I lined up my class and counted heads to make sure I had everyone in line, I would come up one person short, and I would say,” Where is George?” Since my goal at that time was for EVERYONE to get to where we were going, I would have to leave the class in line and go find George. Sometimes I found him singing to himself while he was swinging on a swing. Other times he might be examining a weed growing in a crack in the sidewalk.  Once, he was sitting cross legged yoga style under a Jungle Gym with his eyes closed and humming.  When I inquired what he was doing, his reply was, “I’m thinking!”  Though exasperating, George never failed to put a smile on my face, and I was so happy when he was found and back in line with his classmates.

My goal was for all of us to get to our destination.   I think that is the main goal of anyone who is in charge of others. That includes teachers, firemen, parents, soldiers, etc. We can’t leave anyone behind.  What mother or father has not stayed awake at night, praying for a wayward child?  What soldier doesn’t risk their own lives to save their brother and sister in uniform who might find themselves in danger?  Police or fire men and women literally climb through burning buildings or a hail of bullets to rescue complete strangers!

I am sure the shepherd in this story loved all his sheep but he, too, couldn’t leave even one lamb behind to fall prey to wolves or starve to death.

God is like that shepherd.  God’s will is for all of us to be with Him in heaven.  No man, woman, or child left behind! That is why He sent Jesus to rescue us from our sins and to show us the way to Him. That is Jesus’ mission still today.  The question is whether or not you will join Him in that mission.

Will you look around you and see the one “lost lamb” and bring him or her back to the fold?  Will you introduce the one who has never heard the gospel to Jesus?  Will you face the possibility of your own rejection from friends and co-workers for reaching out to someone who is wandering and in peril of falling prey to the people and things that want to destroy and devour him/her?

It might take some of your time. It might be risky! But someone, sometime, someplace took that risk for you! Now it is your turn.

It is time for you to join the mission, pass God’s love on, and not let anyone be left behind!

 Pat Arnold

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November 13 – Red Letters – “Let the Little Children Come to Me”

Read Matthew 19:13-15

I love little kids! Having worked in various Sunday, Bible and elementary schools for over 50 years, I had better! I feel it has been one of the greatest honors God has given to me! There is just something about children that is missing in the rest of the world.

Is it their acceptance of everyone, no matter what skin color, body size or abilities? Many times, I have seen children volunteering to help special needs classmates in the classroom and on the playground, sometimes to the dismay of others around them.

Or could it be their sense of awe of God’s handiwork? They see the beauty in butterflies, the humor in a donkey’s bray, and the fascination of how water drips from the end of a facet.

Or could it be their genuine trust in people? Or their forgiveness of people who have wronged them, unlike some adults who will hold a grudge for years?

As followers of Jesus, we need to look at how He viewed children? Did He think they should be seen and not heard, like several leaders in His time or something different? Several times, Jesus used little children as examples to His followers. What was it that Jesus saw in them that the people around Him couldn’t see?

In Matthew 18, when the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in heaven, Jesus called a child over to Him and said, “Unless you humble yourself as a little child, you will not be in heaven. ..Therefore whoever takes the low position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He saw humbleness.

In Matthew 19:14, He said, “Let the little children come to me. And do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” He welcomed them and delighted in them and they in Him. Therefore, they had direct access to the kingdom of God!

Then He said,” Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me!” They showed all the traits followers of Jesus should have, and so He saw Himself in them!

However, He also saw innocence and vulnerability. In Matthew 18:6, He warned, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea!”

Do you have a childlike faith? Not a naïve faith that will fall for anything and is shifting in the wind but a trusting faith that is constantly maturing to make you into a strong and faithful follower of Christ? Are you trusting, hungry for the truth, in awe of God’s wonders, humble, and a reflection of Christ himself to everyone around you?

As Jesus warned, “I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “

What do you need to change today?

Pat Arnold

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November 12 – Red Letters – “You Will Fish for People”

Read Matthew 4:19

Years ago, I saw Tony Dungy play quarterback for the Minnesota Gophers when they played at Ohio stadium in Columbus. I was a student at Ohio State. Tony was a standout player and he was also a standout person. I later learned that he was a Christian.

Dungy is now an analyst on NBC. I believe he is following the command of Jesus that we read about in Matthew 4:19 and is a fisher of people on TV, where non-believers may be watching football.

It is not easy.

As a commentator for “Football Night in America” after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in a recent Super Bowl, Tony ruffled feathers with his congratulatory statement about the Eagles quarterback.  “Nick Foles told me last week that he felt the Lord had him in Philadelphia for a special moment and he played like it tonight.”

Some sports fans responded on Twitter:

Fan: “Unbelievable that you would use your employer, NBC sports, to spout this nonsense on the air.”

Another fan: “Stuff your bigotry, Tony.”

Tony: “Why is it bigoted to believe in Jesus Christ? I don’t follow you.”

“Does that mean the Lord hated the Patriots?” the fan responded. “Does NBC want you preaching on air?”

“No. They want me to give my opinion and that’s what I did. I’m wrong a lot, but I believe I was right this time,” Tony answered in defense of his original statement about Foles. “NBC pays me to express my opinion. And it was my opinion that Nick Foles would play well because his Christian faith would allow him to play with confidence. And that he’s a good quarterback. I think I was right on both counts.”

The fan responded with, “If a player told you he worshiped Satan and felt strongly that was the reason he succeeded, would you report that? Or his sincere belief that there was no God and that gives him great clarity by limiting distraction – would you report that? I HIGHLY DOUBT IT. You are a self-serving fraud.”

Tony said, “You don’t know me well enough then. If NBC sent me to do a story on you, I would report exactly what you told me. I wouldn’t try to paint you as something you’re not. Can we do the same for the Christian players?”

What do we learn from Tony? Let’s fish where we are. We can fish for people in our world today by looking for opportunities in our work, our hobby and, certainly, in our neighborhoods and families. Talk about spiritual things and Christian events or stories you have recently read. Talk to people about great Christian examples and characteristics you have seen in an actor, actress, athlete, politician, pastor or neighbor. Talk about what you are praying for. You’re not out to win an argument but to soften their heart to the good news of the gospel. Tony was a great example of this truth.

Be aware of opportunities to fish . . . someone might be searching!

Tom Weckesser

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November 11 – Red Letters – “Whoever Wants to be First Must Be a Slave”

Read Mark 10:41-45

I’ve only been in full-time ministry for 5 years. In many respects, I am still very much learning “the ropes”, the “how to’s” and the “ins and outs” of leading people to become more fully devoted followers of Christ. Along the way, there have been a few incredible mentors for me that have taught me so much about what it takes to pastor well. From Dad (Dave Lawson), Nick Cleveland, and Randy Moomaw to Tim Boucher and Steve Kern, I have learned encyclopedias worth of information and have gotten incredible ministerial experience. Many leaders have said that you can learn from absolutely anyone. I personally believe that, the moment you stop listening to other trusted leaders, is the moment you should quit because you falsely believe that you know everything there is to know.

One of the principles that I have learned over the years is this: never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Never EVER think that you are somehow above anyone else and are somehow too important to do certain things. Never think that you are above taking out the trash, setting up tables and chairs and setting up for an event that you even may be speaking at. Validate people and let them know that you appreciate them and what they bring to the team. After all, we’re all in this life change thing together.

I believe this is similar to the truth Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples in our reading today. If you read a little bit earlier than verse 41, you’ll see the disciples are in an uproar because two, let’s say “confident”, brothers ask Jesus to be seated on each of Jesus’ sides in Heaven. To the other disciples, this was interpreted as a slap in the face as they apparently thought they were much more important than the other ten.

Jesus, knowing the tense emotions that were developing, decided to curb these thoughts of “who is better” by telling them they have it all wrong. Instead of trying to be the best and greatest, you must exemplify humility to be favored in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If Jesus, of all people, the One who has the power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, calm the storms and has the authority to forgive sins, came to this world to serve, why can’t we? Why do we always seem to think more highly of ourselves than we should? What makes us “above” anyone else?

I have taken it upon myself to constantly be thinking of ways that I can serve and encourage other people.

What about you?

Would you be so bold as to admit that you often think too highly of yourself? What are some ways that, instead, you can fight to serve and encourage others?

Jake Lawson

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