Monday, March 31

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Matthew 13:54-57
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?they asked. Isnt this the carpenters son? Isnt his mothers name Mary, and arent his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Arent his sisters with us? Where did this man get all these things?And they took offense at him.

A few years ago I decided to go back to my hometown for the 30th reunion of my high school class. My family had moved away from the area within months of my graduation  and I had only visited once in all those years.

The first event of the weekend was a cookout at a classmates home. I remember parking in the street outside the address and just sitting in my car for at least 15 minutes. I was surprised by the anxiety I felt. I found myself wondering who would be there that I would remember? I wondered if people would recognize me? It had been so long! I wondered if I had dressed appropriately? What would people think of me? How would they react when they found out I had become a pastor? Would they be impressed? Would they laugh?

Then it dawned on me that I felt just like I used to feel in 8th or 9th grade; awkward, unsure of myself, and just wanting to be accepted!

In this rather obscure text from Matthews gospel we are given a glimpse into what it was like for Jesus to return to his hometown.

From what we are able to learn from the gospels, Jesus grew up in Nazareth, where he likely inherited his fathers carpentry business. Then when he was about 30 years old he left Nazareth and moved to the region of Capernaum in Galilee, where he began what we know as his public ministry. He called his first disciples and began his teaching and healing ministry.

At some point, it seems, he returned for a short time to his home town, only to find his friends and even his family unwilling to accept the change that had taken place.

Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?they asked. Isnt this the carpenters son? Isnt his mothers name Mary, and arent his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Arent his sisters with us? Where did this man get all these things?And they took offense at him.
I think we should notice several important things here. First, it seems clear that Jesus grew up in a family with siblings. There has been much debate through the centuries about whether Mary and Joseph had other children after Jesusmiraculous birth. Some traditions have argued that Mary did not have any other children and that we are to understand the reference to “brothers” and “sisters” as referring to cousins. However, the clearest reading of the language, and the clearest meaning of the context, is that Jesus did, in fact, grow up in a family with younger brothers and sisters.

Second, we should notice that those who knew him best; those who grew up with him; those who used the tables and chairs he built with his carpenters hands were those who struggled to believe he was the Son of God. We see that Jesus experienced rejection from those who were closest to him.

I think I can understand why that may have been so. Imagine how difficult it would be to accept that your brother or your best friend from grade school was God become flesh! How are you supposed to believe that?

In a similar way I have heard many people describe experiencing rejection or skepticism from their family or friends when trying to share their own spiritual transformation.

They hear things like, “So you think youre better than us now because you found God?”

Sometimes the hardest place to live out the gospel is in our own families or in our closest circle of friends.

One would imagine that Jesus had to feel the sting of rejection from his friends and family. All we know from the gospel accounts is that he returned to Galilee and continued to preach and teach and heal many; and that he eventually submitted to the cross.

We also know that at some point following the resurrection Jesus appeared to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7) and that James not only believed, but became a leader of the church in Jerusalem and author of the book that bears his name.

Its likely that some reading this devotional are the only follower of Christ in their family. Some may have experienced the rejection of friends because of their faith. Take heart! Jesus also knew what rejection was like; but he continued to obey the Father and the result was that many, including his brother James, eventually came to faith.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Friday, March 28

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I believe many Christians have a lack of power and joy that is due in large part to their lack of participation in corporate worship/praising. The God who gave His Son to die in our place to save us from eternal punishment is being praised...and yet we can sit or stand with no sign of emotion, no shout of 'Hallelujah,' refusing to join in the song of the redeemed? What?! God is worthy of our thanks and praise, and he commands (not suggests) that we praise him.  

“Worship acceptable to God is the missing crown jewel in evangelical Christianity.
Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to make worshipers out of rebels!  I am of the opinion that we should not be concerned about working for God until we have learned the meaning and delight of worshiping Him…I fear that there are many professing Christians who do not want to hear such statements about their ‘busy schedule,’ but it is the truth. God is trying to call us back to that for which He created us—to worship Him and to enjoy Him forever!”  - A.W. Tozer

The Psalms of course are our best source for praising God, but just in case you were thinking that all of this praising is just an Old Testament thing... 

  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ  - Ephesians 5:18-20

We are strengthened and blessed when we sing praises to God with the God’s people. Our focus on God's greatness is renewed. Others are encouraged and comforted. As we worship God together, God speaks to our hearts!  Did you know that Paul’s mission work was birthed in the midst of corporate worship?

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.   - Acts 13:2-3

Each local church a part of the eternal song, with the ultimate goal of Revelation. God wants local churches unified, adding their part to the great song of praise. One day every language ever spoken will come together in a glorious song of praise to JESUS CHRIST! No king has ever received that glory.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. - Romans 15:5-6

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation - Revelation 4:9

What do you need to be a true worshipper?  What do you need to praise the Lord?  
You don’t have to be a great singer; you just need a great Savior! 

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, March 27

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Years ago I had conversation with a man who was reluctant to join his family in attending our church.  He told me that the was glad his wife and kids were connected, and that he liked the preaching (the few times he had come), but that he just wasn’t into going to church services.  I asked what was holding him back, and he told me that he really didn’t care for all of the standing and singing...he said that it felt childish, like he was at a kids camp.  I think that many men feel the same way, but it’s not because they hate music or singing...I think, for many men (and women), it is because they don’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it when they sing in church.

Christians sing together during corporate worship gatherings. Colossians 3:16-17 helps us understand why...

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Paul tells us that worshiping God together in song is meant to deepen the relationships we enjoy through the gospel. This happens in three ways (or three R’s):

1. Singing helps us remember God’s Word.
Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The “word of Christ” mostly likely means the word about Christ, or the gospel. Songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of the sermon.

2. Singing helps us respond to God’s grace.
While no one is exactly sure what “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” refers to, we can at least infer some kind of variety in our singing. No singular musical style captures either the manifold glories of God or the appropriate responses from his people.
We’re also told to sing with “thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Singing is meant to be a whole-hearted activity. Emotionless singing is an oxymoron. God gave us singing to combine objective truth with thankfulness, doctrine with devotion, and intellect with emotion.

3. Singing helps us reflect God’s glory.
Doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” implies bringing God glory. Worshiping God together in song glorifies God.  Did you know that all three persons of the Trinity sing?

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
- Zephaniah 3:17

Finally, it anticipates the song of heaven when we’ll have unlimited time to sing, clearer minds to perceive God’s perfections, and glorified bodies that don’t grow weary.

Worshiping God in song isn’t simply a nice idea or only for musically gifted people. The question is not, “Has God given me a voice?” but “Has God given you a song?”

If you trust in the finished work of Christ, the answer is clear: Yes, He has given you a song to sing!

So let us remember His Word, respond to His grace, and reflect on His glory!

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, March 26

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Many years ago, a very intelligent young lady who had been attending our church off and on for several months sent me an e-mail with the following question...

Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. God is supposedly an omnipotent being who, for reasons unknown to us, decided to create some beings other than himself. Why should he expect us to worship him? We didn’t ask to be created. Our lives are often difficult and troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no such insecurities or character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?

This is a very good question, and there is no doubt that the Bible is full of places where God commands and even demands that we praise Him.

James 5:13 - Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Psalm 148:5 - Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.

Hebrews 13:15 - Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

The problem with the young woman’s question is that she assumes the only reason that God demands our praise is because of some insecurity or defect in His character.  But with God there is another possibility.
Author and self professed atheist Ayn Rand once said, admiration is the rarest and best of pleasures?  I don’t think Ayn Rand understood this, but what if God really is the most admirable being in the universe? Wouldn’t this imply that God’s demand for our praise is actually an expression of His desire for our highest joy?  And if the fulfillment of that demand for praise cost him the life of his Son, would that not be love (instead of insecurity or arrogance)?

The reason the Bible gives why God should be greatly praised is that he is great. “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4). He is more admirable than anything he has made. That is what it means to be God.

The Bible says that praise – overflowing, heartfelt admiration – is a pleasure. “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant” (Psalm 147:1).  And this pleasure is the best there is, and lasts forever. “In (God's) presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

The upshot of this is that God’s demand for supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness. Deep in our hearts we know that we are not made to be made much of. We are made to make much of something greater than ourselves. The best joys are when we forget ourselves, enthralled with greatness. The greatest greatness is God’s. Every good that ever thrilled the heart of man is amplified ten thousand times in God. God is in a class by himself. 

C. S. Lewis broke through to the beauty of God’s self-exaltation (thinking at first that the Psalms sounded like an old woman craving compliments). He finally saw the obvious:
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

So, let’s enjoy God today by praising Him!

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, March 25

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Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
    praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised!
- Psalm 113:1-3

Psalm 113 is the first in a series of 6 Psalms (113-118) known as the “Hallels”, meaning “Praises”.  These Psalms were sung in the Temple and in Jewish homes at the great feast days of Judaism, they held an especially important place in Passover.  In fact, when Matthew records that Jesus and His disciples sung a hymn together before they went out to the Mt. of Olives (Matt. 26:30), it is almost certain that the hymn the disciples sang together with Jesus after the Last Supper was one of these Psalms.  

The Hebrew word hallel, while most often translated as “praise”, can also be accurately translated as “boast”.  It may not seem appropriate to many of us to associate worship with boasting, but that is actually what we are doing when we praise God - we are boasting in the greatness and the goodness of our God.  In fact, the simple three word phrase, “Praise the LORD”, which appears so frequently in the Psalms, is actually a single Hebrew word which we have transliterated as hallelujah.  This is a compound word made up of the two words; Hallel = praise/boast, and Yah = LORD.  Hallelujah is actually a call, or a command for God’s people to make their boast in Yah, in the LORD.  

Imagine two children on a school playground boasting about their fathers...”my dad is bigger than your dad...oh yeah, well my dad is stronger than your dad.”  As God’s children, we are called to make the boast of our hearts in the fact that God alone is worthy of our praise!  When we come together to hallelujah, to sing the praises of our God, we are actually reminding ourselves and each other of how great and good our God truly is.

One of the places in the Old Testament where this idea of boasting in the LORD is most clearly stated is the words of the prophet Jeremiah...

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”  - Jeremiah 9:23-24

Every human being is boasting in something, that is every person is placing their hopes, their significance, their ultimate value in someone or something.  As David puts in Psalm 20:7, Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God!

Hallelujah!  Praise the LORD!  Hallelujah!

Jeff Frazier

Monday, March 24

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 A couple of weeks ago (thanks to the generosity of a friend from church) my family and I had the chance to go to a Chicago Blackhawks game together.  We had a terrific time together as a family, the United Center was sold out and the Hawks won!  During the course of the game I had a couple of very interesting experiences that have taught me something about what it means to worship.

The first experience happened during the singing of our national anthem.  I know that they sing the Star Spangled banner at just about every sporting event, but I don’t think they do it the way the Blackhawks do.  The organ was cranked up, the singer was belting it out and 20,000 people all singing and cheering at the top of their lungs. Mid-way through the song the noise was deafening, by the last few lines of the anthem, I thought the roof was going to blow off of the United Center!  I felt chills the whole time, it was a truly thrilling experience.

The second experience happened during the course of the game itself.  Because we didn’t have 5 tickets all together, I ended up sitting one section over and a few rows up from the rest of my family so that they could all sit together.  I found myself sitting between a couple of businessmen on one side, and a fellow who looked like he might have slept in the United Center on the other side of me.  Each time the Hawks scored or made a great play, I found myself turning to my right and to my left to high five these strangers that I had never met before.  The Hawks dominated the game and ended up scoring 6 goals that night so there was plenty of high-fiving going on, and after the 6th goal, I actually ended up embracing the rough looking fellow to my left!  I didn’t even know these men, and I was laughing, cheering, high-fiving, and hugging them over a hockey game!?

I have thought a lot about that experience, about how it compares to the common experience of corporate worship in a church service today.  I think we have bought into the great cultural misconception that religion and worship are private matters and we should keep them to ourselves.  Most Sundays, we come together to “worship” and to praise our God in church, yet we act like complete strangers to each other when we share a love for the great God of all creation!?

This is certainly not the message of the Bible and it is certainly not the picture that the Psalms paint for us of what it should look like when God’s people praise His name.  In fact, the Psalms call us to praise, they command us to praise the name of our God together.  Take a moment and read/pray/worship through Psalm 150, the last chapter in the Psalms, and as you read pay attention to how this incredible book ends.

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,

praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,

praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.   - Psalm 150

Jeff Frazier

Friday, March 21

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Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

I have always liked to pray either early in the morning or late at night. It just seems that I am more focused and can more readily sense Gods presence at the beginning or the end of a day.

Years ago, while in graduate school, I was struggling with several big decisions in my life. Late one night I intentionally walked out by a small lake just to pray for Gods guidance. I climbed up on a small lifeguards chair and prayed silently as I looked out over the calm, dark waters. After maybe 30 or 45 minutes of both pouring out my heart and asking God all kinds of questions, I hadnt really gotten any direction or insight, so I said, Amenand climbed down from the chair. I felt a bit disappointed because it seemed God had not been anywhere near the lifeguard chair that night.

As I turned to start walking back to my apartment I suddenly sensed a presence behind me; as if someone was sneaking up behind me. The presence was so enormous and so near that it startled me. I spun around to see who or whatever it was. Nothing. Just the dark lake. Then in the stillness of that moment I sensed his voice, I am with you; and I have always been with you.Then, just like that, the presence was gone and it was just me and the lake.

In 1 Kings we find the well-known story of Elijah as he hid in a cave fearful of those who were seeking his life.

The Lord said, Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah?1 Kings 19:11-13
The voice, of course, was the voice of God himself, who encourages and strengthens Elijah to continue his prophetic ministry. God shows Elijah that his power and presence is manifested not only in dramatic demonstrations of wind, earthquake and fire; but also in a whisper. Elijah knew all about dramatic expressions of Gods power. He had witnessed fire fall from heaven to consume a sacrifice and defeat the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18); but what he needed now was the reassurance of Gods gentle whisper.

I think thats what the writer is talking about at the end of Psalm 46:

He says, Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The Hebrew word translated Be stillcarries the meaning of ceasing to strive, to let ones hands fall, to relax and rest.

When was the last time you were still enough to hear the gentle whisper of God? Maybe its time to turn off the T.V., cell phone and laptop; maybe its time to cease your striving, your working, your doing, and just be still...and listen for his voice.


Forgive me for filling my days with so much noise and activity that I fail to listen for your voice. Teach me to be still and wait for you; teach me to hear your gentle whisper. Amen.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, March 20

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Genesis 32:22-30

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."

Years ago I read a book about family therapy that told the story of a 9 year old boy who had gotten in trouble at school for starting fires. His strange behavior worried his parents so they anxiously took him to a counselor. During the first couple of family sessions the boy was very disruptive, repeatedly getting out of his chair, poking his siblings and generally making the session miserable. In about the third session the counselor had finally had enough and spoke sharply to the boy asking him to behave. At that point the boy reached out and slapped the counselors glasses right off his face. The counselor, a grown man in his 50s, leaped out of his chair and wrestled the boy to the floor. Because he had such a strength and weight advantage he easily pinned the boy to the floor. Knowing that he had probably just earned a lawsuit as well as destroyed any chance of helping this family, he glanced up at the father expecting him to be irate but saw, instead, that the boys father was crying. Then he looked back at the boy who was now laughing with glee. He wondered what in world was happening!

Over the next few sessions he figured out that this 9 year old boy was craving his fathers attention and strength. The fire-starting was a cry for his fathers intervention and discipline. But because the father was passive, the boy had come to believe he was physically stronger than his father because he had never felt his fathers strength. The counselor gave the father the assignment to get on the floor and wrestle with his son for something like 10 minutes every day, with the stipulation that he should never let his son win the match.

The boys troubling behavior disappeared almost overnight. It turns out he just needed to know and feel his fathers strength.

The story of Jacob is the story of a man who wrestles mightily with God and, in so doing, discovers Gods overwhelming strength.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

There is just so much to see and learn in this strange story! One of the things I have come to believe is that this story is a picture of our experience of prayer. I have sometimes described prayer as “wrestling with God in the dark until you feel him wrestle back.”

God wants us to wrestle with us. He wants us to wrestle with him. He wants us to feel his strength. But know two things: first, if you wrestle with God, he will always win; second, after he wins, he will always bless you. 


Are you willing to wrestle with God?

I want to know you; and to know your strength. Teach me how to wrestle with you in prayer. Teach me to wrestle with you in prayer until I feel you wrestle back. Teach me to surrender that I might know your blessing. Amen.

Pastor Brian Coffey