Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Empowered Witness

March 31 2016
Scripture: Luke 24:48-49 (ESV)

The Empowered Witness

"You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

After Jesus' death on the cross, He rose again and appeared to many of His disciples. This encounter He appeared to the twelve apostles and He gave them a mission: that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to the whole world. He wanted the disciples to grasp two co-existing truths. 

The first, that we are witnesses, to testify to the truth. We get to share a part in the great mission of Jesus' Gospel. God loves to and wants to use us to fulfill His mission.

The second, that He will help us. The promise of the power from on high is the promise of the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit who clothes Jesus' followers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Stand Up

March 30th 2016
Scripture: Luke 23:23-24 (ESV)

Stand Up

"But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted."

After ceasing Jesus from the garden, the religious leaders took Him to Pilate for only one reason. He was the only one allowed to grant the "death penalty". But Pilate saw right through the lies and didn't find and fault in Jesus, and even tried to release Him. But the crowd was urgent, demanding death in thunderous roars. Pilate was not a believer, but he was fighting a battle between two voices; the inner voice, telling him the right thing to do, and the voice of the crowd, demanding so heavily. "And their voices prevailed".

Pilate faced the same battle that all of us have to face; Do I Stand Up for the truth, or Stand Aside to appease the crowd? In my life, as a Christian, there are times when some non-believing friends of mine will "crucify Jesus" with their words and call Christians not so nice names for believing in the Bible. My first tendency is to shy away to avoid controversy, but Jesus says in Matthew 10:32, "Stand up for God, and I'll stand up for you in Heaven" (paraphrased). when I choose to stand up for God, maybe I won't be the popular vote, but at least I can know I didn't compromise my morals, and my non-believing friends may respect me more for it. But the question still remains, "Will I stand up?"

"Lord Jesus, Help me to stand up for You in the tough situations. and not stand aside to appease the crowd. I know You will be glad to stand for me in Heaven. So give me courage to say, "No" to the demands of the crowd and the world. Your name be forever praised. Amen."

Friday, March 25, 2016

Sacrifice Saves

March 25 2016
Scripture: Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)

Sacrifice Saves

"And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'"

On the evening of the Passover Feast Jesus shared the table with His disciples for one last meal. On this night it was traditional for Jews to kill and eat a lamb, spreading the blood on the doorpost of their house in remembrance of when the Israelites left the land of Egypt, no longer slaves, but a free people. In their culture sacrifice saves. They would kill many animals to atone for their unholiness and rebuild relationship with the Holy God. But Jesus set in place a new celebration and a new covenant. Later that evening, He would become the lamb to be killed, His body broken, His blood poured out on the cross. Sacrifice Saves. Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, He was able to liberate us from sin and death, and bring us into God's kingdom a free people, through His rising again to life on the third day. So He tells his disciples, and all Christians, to eat bread and drink remembering our day of freedom, our spiritual Independence Day!

In my life, that celebration is not always what it should be. I'm very much guilty of eating dry bread and drinking grape juice without really remembering the lamb who made my freedom possible. In Canada Remembrance Day is BIG. It is a little bit like the USA Veterans Day, but the whole nation, town by town, takes this day to remember those who died to protect their freedom. They take a time to celebrate with a solemn and sweet atmosphere remembering, "sacrifice saves". If I would take the time to honor the people who died for me, how much more should I celebrate the God who died for me? I will approach the table of Communion with a humble gratitude for the act that saved me not just in this life, but the heavenly life to come.

"Lord Jesus, thank You for being the sacrifice that saves us. Help me to live remembering and celebrating what You did. Thank You for letting Your body be broken and Your blood spilled out that I might have a relationship with the God who created me and loves me. I will remember. Amen."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Give It Up

March 23 2016
Scripture: Luke 18:29-30 (ESV)

Give It Up

"And He said to them, 'Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers and sisters or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.'"

Jesus had just asked a rich man to give away his earthly wealth and follow Him, but he went away sad because he did not want to part with the many things he had. Jesus then states how nearly impossible it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. His eager disciple Peter chimes in saying, "We gave up our homes and followed you." At first, the next verses looks like an oxymoron that Jesus promises more wealth in this life and the next. Many of Jesus' followers were dirt poor. They suffered beatings, ridicule, imprisonment, and some endured deaths similar to Christ. This doesn't look like, "many times more in this time", but Jesus' words are true nonetheless. Jesus was talking about heavenly treasures, not earthly, like the rich man's stuff. Outwardly, you may have the least, but when you leave behind earthly things for Christ, inwardly you experience the best thing there is: God's presence. So leaving behind the comfort of home and family can be sad, and you may miss it, like Peter, but that's okay, because you will be blessed for what you give up.

If I want to see eternal treasures grow in my life, I must be willing to give up my riches and comfort so that God's kingdom can greater impact my life. It is okay for me to miss the people I left behind, but God will surely bless me for it. A great way to view my possessions is that they were never mine to begin with. "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17). My stuff is God's stuff and if He wants to use it for something else, then that's okay with me, because it's all His anyways.

"Lord Jesus, thank you that whenever I give up something good for You, You will bless me for it. Help me to view my stuff as Your stuff, because I know You gave it to me. Though I may never have millions in this life, I know I am rich in You! Amen."

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Greatness Flip

March 21 2016
Scripture: Luke 9:48 (ESV)

The Greatness Flip

"Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives Him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great."

One day along the road Jesus' disciples were arguing among themselves who was "the greatest disciple". Jesus had no time or patience for comparisons. Pulling a nameless boy (Jesus knew his name) in front of them all, He made a profound point: "Receive him, you receive me." Now that's a game-changer for the disciples. The master just made a "random kid" as important as Himself, and more important than any of them. The truth Jesus was portraying is that greatness is not in acts of divine power, but divine love.

I must learn to receive those who God gifted to me in my life as if I were receiving Jesus Himself. I do not need to be "received" by anyone to feel important, because I have already been received by grace of my Father in Heaven. This is true greatness: to love the least.

"Lord Jesus, help me to not be self-absorbed and care about the wrong kind of greatness. Let me receive those who are least as a holy gift, so that I may truly receive the blessing of loving the 'least of these'. Amen."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Source of Strength

March 19 2016
Scripture: Psalm 46:1 (ESV)

Source of Strength

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."

Yesterday morning I tried to write, but the Holy Spirit did not seem to highlight any passage like He usually does. I searched until I had to leave for work, wondering why I could not find my nugget of wisdom I mine for every morning. When I arrived at the Church, the Lead Pastor had our staff go and spend the first twenty-five minutes of our TRC (Training, Requirements, and Communication) meeting in alone time with God. He gave a short devotional hand-out and told us to reflect on it. Psalm 46:1 kept popping out to me because of the word Strength. On my way to work, I was listening to the Christian radio in my car and I heard a newer song called Strong Enough by Matthew West. In the bridge of this song it states, "I don't have to be strong enough," because God is our strength. It all clicked for me when I heard the Family Life Pastor share that Psalm 46:1 stuck out to him as well.

I've been trying in more than my devotional life to operate out of my own strength, like I have to provide all the strength myself. But this verse says,"God is my strength" and I can depend on Him in my troubles like a place of refuge. Therefore next time I am trying to make things happen on my own, I will stop and remember that my strength comes from Him, by reading this prayer posted at my desk.

"Lord Jesus, thank you that I don't have to rely on my own strength to get me through life. I am very wimpy when it comes to the power You have. Help me to return to this truth often so I may be reminded where my strength, my breath, my life, comes from. Let me rely on You alone. Amen."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Unexpected Hour

March 17 2016
Scripture: Luke 12:40 (ESV)

The Unexpected Hour

"You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Jesus talks here about being ready at any moment, because we don't know when He will return. He uses the word picture of a man (servant) waiting for his master to return home from a wedding. Even if he comes in the deep hours of the night, the servant who is still awake will open the door promptly for his master. 

At college my dormitory would have  "room checks" to make sure that we young men were keeping our rooms to a certain standard of cleanliness. We had a general idea when the RA (residential assistant) would come, but I wasn't the greatest at preparing ahead of time. I would be vacuuming and looking down the hall, trying to see if he was coming, at the same time. Then there was that guy who generally kept his room clean at all times. He never scurried, because he was always ready. I think Jesus wants us to be ready like this; at all times in our spiritual lives. But how often do we procrastinate, and one shirt lands on the bed, dirty socks roll under the desk, and my bible begins to collect dust on the shelf?

I must be ready! I believe that Christ will return to this earth and it will be when I least expect it. So I will keep spiritually awake by seeking my relationship with God on a regular basis in the Bible, in prayer, in fasting. I can't afford to be lazy in my faith and I must tell the rest of the people around me, "Wake up Jesus is coming!" 

"Lord Jesus, I know that I can tend to procrastinate the more important things. Help me to be ready at all times, joyfully expecting Your return. Let me be faithful to what You have given me now. Amen." 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Proving Faithful

March 16th 2016
Scripture: Luke 16:10-11 (ESV)

Proving Faithful

"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?"

It is very human of us to want to be put in charge and in places of authority. My first time driving by myself, I was entrusted to go return a set of books to the library. It was a three mile trip, and I thought I could handle more responsibility than that, but my parents started me off with little to see how I would handle it. I did what they asked, and their confidence in my driving grew over time, and so did mine. 

A lot of times we can find ourselves asking God for more; a larger budget, a bigger worship team, more children, a bigger house, more committed people to your dreams and visions. But God will often times be the parent saying, "I may give those to you later, but for now, let's stick to what you have." If you are screaming for more responsibility and not getting it, chances are you might be neglecting what you already have been given. Until I am responsible with the few things, I will never get my hands on the many, simply because I'm not ready for it yet. A strong oak tree does not develop overnight, but reaches out just a little higher than yesterday.

Take inventory: who has God placed in authority above and below me? What resources are available to me? Am I doing the best I can with what I have? Am I respectful to those in charge of me? When I respect those in authority with humility, I am being faithful to the place God has put me in. I must be content with what God has given me, but also committed to do the best I can, no matter how little I feel it is. 

"Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me the desire to do great things for you. Help me to take what I have been given, not grumbling about it, but proving faithful with a good attitude and humble heart. I know you will give me more when I'm ready. I trust you. Amen."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Power in Persistence

March 15 2016
Scripture: Luke 18:7-8 (ESV)

Power in Persistence

"And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?"

In this story Jesus tells of a widow who demands justice from a judge who doesn't fear God or respect men. This man was abusing the justice court system, by refusing her case. But the widow continued to come demanding justice until the drained judge came to his own conclusion that he will not have rest until this woman has her justice served. So he complied. 

This story shows the power of persistence; how even the crooked will give in, just to get it off their backs. When we come to God, we must be persistent in our prayers. For unlike the crooked judge, God is just and He will set all things right in the end. But what does it mean when God doesn't answer our prayers the way we want? My wife has been praying for Christ to become real to her family members for years, and she is still praying. Does this make God unjust? It may be tempting to believe that, but God is always working in ways we cannot see or imagine. God has perfect timing, and maybe He isn't saying "No", but "Not yet", like picking a wild strawberry before it's ripe yet. 

We must have persistence, lest the Son of Man comes and finds that we gave up faith after the third or fourth time praying. Imagine if the widow gave up after the judge said, "no" the first time. Imagine if Elijah gave up on the sixth time praying, when rain would fall on the seventh. Imagine if Jericho's wall never fell because the Israelites gave up walking around the city on the third day, and devised a different strategy. Prayer needs persistence because it demands we have faith in God that He will bring justice, even when we don't see it. 

Like the widow, I must be willing to come back to the exact same spot everyday seeking God's answer. But life is busy, maybe I can wake up earlier to dedicate the first waking moments to my prayers. Maybe I can write a "prayer prompt" on sticky notes in all the places I would be likely to see them and be reminded to pray.

"Lord Jesus, help me to be persistent, never giving up on my faith, so I may see your justice rain down in your perfect timing. Amen."

Monday, March 14, 2016

Feast On This

March 14 2016
Scripture: Luke 14:13-14 (ESV)

Feast On This!

"But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the Resurrection of the Just."

Jesus was invited to a party where we find him 'changing the rules of the game' once again. He states that when you give a feast don't invite your friends, relatives, or rich neighbors, for they may pay you back by inviting you in return. This no longer is a generous giving, but borrowing, because the expectation is "if I do something nice to you, you should do something nice to me to return the favor". 

But true giving is not expecting even a penny back in this life; for the eternal repayment is found in the Father's pleasure at the End of the Age. So Jesus is saying to be generous in this way, it would be easier to invite those who couldn't repay you even if they wanted to. Then you will be blessed because you followed the heart of Jesus' instruction when He said, "as you did to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did to Me" (Mat 25:40). 

If I want to know the true joys of giving, I must decide for myself to give, expecting nothing, not even a "thank you". It will not be for my gain, but for theirs. If Jesus was willing to give everything, even His life, what would I be willing to give to those He died for? My resources? My time? My "youth pastor shuddle services"? I must give to those that cannot give back, for Jesus did the exact same thing on the cross by giving Himself when there was no other way for us to repay our debts. 

"Lord Jesus, thank You for throwing Your "heavenly party" and inviting me to join in, when there was no way I could repay You for what You paid to make it happen. Help me to model my giving after You and to find the joy and blessing of serving the least, the poor, the blind, the lame, and crippled. Let me not seek any earthly reward but cling to the eternal reward that You will give during the Resurrection of the Just. Take me and use all I have for Your glory. Amen."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor

March 12 2016
Scripture: Luke 10:28-29 (ESV)

Who Is My Neighbor?

"And He (Jesus) said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.' But he desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'

This lawyer intended to test Jesus, but in reality it was Jesus testing him. He knew the heart of the Old Testament law was to love God and your neighbor as yourself. But he must have not been living it out, for he felt the need for a clarifying question: " Who is my neighbor?" He wanted to know what little he could get by with and still make it to Heaven. How many times do we know what we ought to do and choose to ignore it. I believe the Holy Spirit will teach us and bring to remembrance the things we heard Jesus say (John 14:26). The struggle is between knowing and doing. Jesus knew that to truly love you need to let what you know and believe determine what you do. 

Does this mean I should be like the Good Samaritan and pick up every person I see and pay for their hotel rooms? Maybe if the Holy Spirit leads you to in that certain situation. But what I see is that I must have compassion for all people, even those I do not know yet. I must ask myself, "Is there an obvious need in that person's life I could possibly fill? If it were me, what would bless my heart?" Ask the Spirit. Take what you know, do it, and you will surely live. Now look and see, "who is your neighbor?"

" Lord Jesus, I know sometimes I try to squeeze by with the smallest amount possible, and I am sorry. Help me to see that to truly live, I must go and do likewise. Thank you for your word, which shows me what I need to know, so I can go and do it in my world. Amen"

Friday, March 11, 2016

Daily Dependence

March 11 2016
Scripture: Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

Daily Dependence

"Two things I ask of You; deny them not to me before I die: Remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be filled and deny You and say, 'who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the Name of my God."

The first of the two things asked here is somewhat easy to grasp; "to keep me from lying." This leaves only an authentic self, which is a desirable thing. But the second seems a little harder to grasp; "give me neither poverty nor riches." In the world of gain, we want progress not poverty. Besides, isn't richness a sign of God's blessing? The problem is seen in our need and dependence for God. If He blessed us with all we ever needed, we would become forgetful and deny that we even need God because we have all we would ever need and more. So then, we should desire to be poor? Not quite, if we become so desperate that we steal and cheat to get what we need, we profane and disgrace the Name of our God.

This reminds me of Exodus 16, where the people of Israel were depending on God in the wilderness to give them manna that was dropped down from Heaven. God would always drop enough for everyone for that day, but when some tried to save extra in their tents over-night, they would find nothing but maggots in the morning. 

I must learn to develop the Daily Dependence for all my needs; seeking not to become rich and independently sustained apart from God, but seeking righteousness, not richness. 

"Lord Jesus, I thank you for promising that You will take care of me. Help me to become daily dependent, seeking You rather than what I can gain from You. Amen."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why Anxiety?

March 10th 2016
Scripture: Luke 12:25-26 (ESV)

Why Anxiety?

"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?"

I love to be in control. It makes me happy when things end up close to or exactly like I planned. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, most times, a "monkey wrench" will be thrown into the mix and my perfect plan becomes useless and in need of instant readjustment. For me, worry comes out in the form of frustration. I hate giving up on my plans, because it feels like I somehow failed. Jesus tells His disciples though not to be anxious about their life. He asks a rhetorical question, "Who can add a single hour to his life by worrying?" The funny thing is, the more you worry, the more time slips away, which can cause you to worry even more, and the vicious cycle continues. 

The fear is rooted in control. I get anxious when things happen that are beyond my control. But Jesus says, "you aren't in control anyways!" The most fearful thought can be the most freeing if you reverse the way you view it. Later on in the passage it says that the world runs after their needs, but God already knows everything you need; and it can free you to know that you may not be in control, but God is and He values you and will provide for you. 

To become free of anxiety, I must learn to relinquish the control I think I have, and trust God's timing, rather than fretting through each stressful situation that rocks my boat. It is well said in the old Hymn, "Trust and Obey":

"Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey"

"Lord Jesus, I know you created me and that you know all my needs. Help me to realize that You are in control. When I feel the urge to be frustrated, let me respond in grace and love, trusting that Your will is being done. Let that be enough for me. Amen."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Heartfelt Count & Recount

March 9th 2016
Scripture Psalm 9:1-2 (ESV)

A Heartfelt Count & Recount

"I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your Name, O Most High."

An attitude of gratitude seems more and more lacking in American culture today. The primary message in the market is not, "I'm so happy for all I have," but rather, "There is no way I'll be happy till I have all." How is this "Me" mentality battled? King David in this psalm highlights two words four times; "I will". For David and the rest of us, thankfulness doesn't come naturally, "I am thankful", but it comes by a choice, "I will be thankful". When counting  and recounting all you're grateful for becomes a habit of choice, you will find that list of thankfulness growing more and more. 

Choosing to be grateful for what I have requires me to say, "Thank You" to God by counting and recounting all His wonderful deeds. Try writing a list of twenty-five things you are grateful for right now. This may be a little stretching (it was for me). Read them aloud and choose to be glad and give praise to the Name of the Most High. Reread that list tomorrow and add any more that comes to mind.

"Lord Jesus, thank you so much for my family and the Joys of Life. Help me to become a more grateful person and to give You the praise You deserve. Again, thank you!"

Here's my list, lets here yours!

Thank you God for...
1 A godly wife
2 A loving family
3 A calling to Ministry
4 Giving me confidence
5 Providing time and time again
6 Deepening my heart with love
7 Music and praise
8 Forgiveness
9 A bed to sleep in
10 A healthy body
11 More than enough food
12 Heat in the winter
13 A purpose for my life
14 The joy of laughter
15 A community of believers
16 Accountability partners
17 Protection thus far
18 The warmth of sunshine
19 The World to explore
20 Always something to learn
21 World Wide Communication
22 Clean water 24/7
23 A simple cup of coffee
24 Great mentors in my life
25 A working car
26 Giving me courage (Joshua 1:9)
27 Religious freedom
28 The joy of camping outdoors
29 My Martin guitar
30 That You call me "son"
31 The Holy Spirit's guidance 
32 That the Best is yet to come
33 Above all else Jesus!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Temporary Joy Vs. Eternal Joy

March 8th 2016
Scripture Luke 10:19-20 (ESV)

Temporary Joy Vs. Eternal Joy

"Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven."

Jesus sent out seventy-two willing believers who healed people, preformed miracles, and even cast out demons in His name. They must have been ecstatic that they, "ordinary people," received such authority under God. Jesus rejoices with them, but also gives a slight nudge to realign their thinking patterns. He knew that if they only rejoiced in the "good times," then their joy would be snatched away the moment the rough waters of life swept them off their feet. Instead, "rejoice that your names are written in Heaven." The power of this promise is much greater; for this promise is eternally theirs forever. It is not dependent on the temporary, but has strength to pull them through their darkest days, by focusing on the eternal hope in Christ. 

As a follower of Jesus, I long to see myself being a vessel for God to work the extraordinary, which He can, and I would welcome Him to it. But my joy must come from a much deeper well, so that when my "hour has come" to endure the storm, I can still rejoice in my eternal destination that does not change upon my circumstances.

"Lord Jesus, thank You that my name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life through my faith in You. Take my life and use it as You will. Thank You for giving me authority in Your Name. Let me be obedient and joyful in all circumstances; watching and praying, "Your Kingdom come. Amen."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Keep On, Plowing On

March 7th 2016
Scripture: Luke 9:62 (ESV)

Keep On, Plowing On!

"Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.'"

Three men came to Jesus wanting to follow Him, but all of them were keeping an excuse from being fully committed. They kept looking back to what or who they would leave behind. I'm by no means a farmer, but I do know that if a person is plowing a field and does not keep his eyes in front of where he's going and does not maintain a committed thrust forward, the lines will be crooked and no good for any kind of crop. This makes that kind of "plower" unfit for the harvest of souls. 

If I truly want to be a follower of Jesus, I must learn to hold "no reserves" and trust that God has the best before me; not looking back, but plowing forward, preparing for the plentiful harvest that He has called me to. 

"Lord Jesus, you know me and all my excuses. Please help me to realize that Your best for me is ahead, not behind me. Let my commitment to You be unwavering and steady like a plow to the field. Amen."