Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

Can’t Be Contained!

Read Acts 12 here.

Being told to keep quiet when you know the truth should be spoken is challenging. Being told not to do anything you think is right is challenging. For some, it is more important not to ruffle feathers or to disturb the status quo or cause a disturbance in the force. But always remember the truth and grace of God will continue to prevail and will not be held back.

In Acts 12, we read about Herod trying to please the crowd. He was violent with anyone who was affiliated with the church (those who followed Jesus Christ). In fact, he had the Apostle James killed by the sword. Herold saw how much this pleased the Jews, so he had Peter arrested too.

Why would Herod be so angry with followers of Christ and do what he could to please the Jews? His control over the region would be lost and severely threatened if more of the citizens believed in and followed Jesus Christ. This is a scary place to be whenever you are used to having control. Isn’t it amazing how much emphasis on our identity is based upon what we do and what we can control?

To keep his sense of running the region, Herod was doing everything he could to stop the people from following another. His actions would have instilled fear in the people who witnessed his actions. It is human nature to go into a mindset of self-preservation. So, acting pleased, even if you weren’t would have been the thing to do. Also, there would have been religious authorities, of the day, most likely pressuring people to not go against Herod.

The citizens saw that Peter was arrested. In the community, he would have been the one seen as the leader, so some may have thought this business of following Jesus was over. But…You cannot contain nor stop what God is doing.

Peter was released, at night, by an angel of the Lord. No one saw him leave. What Herod tried to contain and squish, God released. Is there anything inside you that is “imprisoned” that needs to be released? I am talking about having fear of talking to others about Jesus, going on the “bad/rough” side of town to spread the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ, being the person willing to stand up for those who have no one?

The power of God’s grace can open up doors and cross boundaries we may feel it’s difficult to cross. When we recognize that God is the Creator and is already present, we also should understand there is nothing that humans can do to stop the power of grace.

Yes, fear does keep people laying low and not doing anything; but if we allow ourselves to live into the joy, hope, love, peace, power that God has given us, there is nothing anyone can do.

1 Timothy 2:7 “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”

Romans 8:26-39 “26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. 30 Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified. 31 So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them.34 Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. 35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. 37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.”

Rejoice!

Christmastime is such a joyous time of year for so many people. This is the time we celebrate families with gift giving, parties, travel, and much more. We can see the good things in life, when we get together.

Unfortunately, many people do not have this same experience of this time of year. So many have felt loss and this time of year reminds them of this. There are also people who feel they are being punished in life by God.

The first two and a half chapters of the book of Zephaniah speak of pronouncing and impending judgement. His prophecies seem very similar to the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. But then, the tone completely shifts at the end with a message of hope and joy.

Click here to read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

When I read this short book in the Bible, I am reminded that we should not focus on the difficulties and disasters in our life.

“Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”

“The Lord has removed your judgement…”

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;..”

“Don’t fear…”

Then God promises to “deliver,” “gather,” “change their shame into praise,” “bring all of you back,” “gather you,” “restore.”

God was speaking these to the Israelites; but this also speaks to us today. How? Jesus Christ.

We rejoice because God is in our midst through Jesus Christ. He has removed our sin and shame because of the cross and His resurrection. Jesus, our good shepherd, is gathering us in and leading us. We are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

Christ coming in the world, changes everything. Will we allow Him in to change us once again?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

God’s Invading

Last week, a New York newspaper ran a headline that said, “God is not fixing this,” in response to the shootings that happened in San Bernardino, CA. The article was saying that something has to be done and people can’t “hide” behind meaningless phrases – more specifically, “my thoughts and prayers with with…”

When we read the story of Christ’s birth, we also look at the ministry of John the Baptist. He showed the people, and us today, what God is up to.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

“God is not fixing the problem; God is invading it!” I love this thought, this truth. As I was preparing to preach, I read an article from the pastor of a church that made that statement. There is a lot of truth, and hope in this concept.

I hear people all the time asking why God isn’t fixing the situation. Why didn’t God stop that terrible thing to happen? Why didn’t God intervene in the sickness? There are many other questions we ask.

An answer came almost 2,000 years ago. John the Baptist pointed to the answer when he was baptizing in the wilderness, calling people to repent. He was pointing people to the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

The situation in John’s time was dangerous and people were waiting on God to fix the problem. This is not what God had planned. His plan was to come down in the form of a person (Jesus Christ) to walk around with His creations, show them the Kingdom of Heaven, then die and be resurrected so we could be forgiven and be reconciled to God and receive new life.

God’s answer was, and is, to “invade.” I believe this is His answer today as well. I believe that we can allow God into our lives so we can be changed from the inside out. This is where real change happens – from our heart. If we all Christ to change our hearts, our lives will change and we’ll have more compassion and more God-given direction to make a change in this world by bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Really Ready for Christmas?

This week, we have asked some tough questions, hopefully preparing us and challenging us to embrace the real Christmas event so our lives reflect Christ in this world.

Once more, I invite you to read the scripture focus for this week. Take some time to ponder what we have talked about this week. Most importantly, see what God may be speaking to you through this passage. You can read the scripture for this week here.

The questions we asked this week are:

  • What are we preparing for?
  • Do we take Jesus Christ seriously enough?
  • How different do our lives look?
  • Are we ready to share our faith in urgency?

There are many more questions to ask, and we will ask, that help prepare us for the coming of the Christ child and the return of the Son of Man.

Our challenge is to make the birth of Jesus Christ more real for us, so He is born anew in our hearts this year. This event should deepen our faith and allow God to transform us into new creations.

Are we ready for Christmas?

Christ coming into the world changes everything!

A baby born and laying  in an animal feeding trough is to become King of kings. A Savior is born to live just to die so that we can truly live. His life is not what we would expect someone from the riches of heaven to look or be like. God, Himself, is here with us in human flesh to live the same life we live and experience everything we experience. The Creator of the universe becomes one of the creations. This changes everything!

Are you ready to continue this journey to the cradle which leads us to the cross?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Urgency

Today, we again look at the passage in Luke 21 of Jesus speaking about the end and the glorious return of the Son of Man. This time, I invite us to look at verses 34-36.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

You can read the entire scripture for this week here.

Jesus says to “be on guard,” “be alert at all times.” Other places in the Gospels, Jesus says that we will not know the time when all this will happen. This event is referred to come like a thief in the night. There is urgency to make sure we are ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

Many people become skeptical about the “end times” or the “end of the world,” thinking that this is too much for us to try and understand or it is still in the future. The truth of the matter is the end of the world comes for some people everyday.

Isn’t it heartbreaking when people live in fear and without hope. People around the world, especially in our communities and own homes, need to hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that brings good news to all people. We should not think we have plenty of time because we do not know when that person will pass on.

For me, these passages do not really cause me to be worried about the future; but they do help me realize how important it is to share our faith every opportunity we have (in actions and in words).

I invite you today to pray for someone who needs to hear about Jesus Christ and then trust that God is with you as you share your faith. If you find it challenging, there are people who can help: pastors, church, friends, Bible study groups, etc.

Are you ready to give the gift of Christ to another person this Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Preparing for What?

We have just entered into the season of Advent. This marks the beginning of a new Christian church year. Advent is one of my favorite times because we have the opportunity to focus on the actions God took by becoming man, Jesus Christ. We are invited, once again, to deepen our faith and allow the message of the Christmas Story – the birth of Jesus Christ to change our hearts so we can work with God to change the world. Let’s make this season come alive with deeper meaning and joy.

As we begin this journey, we begin with a scripture passage of Jesus talking about the end times and the return of the Son of Man in glory. We will be asked some questions this week that I pray will cause us to really think about who Christ is to us and how His birth turned the world upside down.

You can read the scripture for this week here.

Today, we begin our journey by asking the question,”what are we preparing for?” It may seem a little strange to start the season of Advent with a passage about the end times and the Son of Man returning; but this is an ancient tradition that has helped Christians through the centuries to prepare their hearts and lives to fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

We are preparing our hearts, our lives, our eyes for God’s actions in the world. Think about it, when we talk to God (pray), do we expect God to act? Another way to put it, when we pray for rain, do we pray with an umbrella in our hand or simply wish for it to rain without trusting that it will? God is acting in our world. Jesus said, “let those with eyes see and those with ear hear.” Do we notice all God is doing, even in the midst of turmoil?

We are also preparing for the birth of a Savior. This Savior is different. We do not have a Savior that will make our lives easier; but a Savior that will be with us every step of our life journey. When we need strength and endurance to endure hardships or difficulties in our life, Christ is with us.

We prepare for something new. Births of children are always the reminder of new life. This Advent, I hope we experience the new life God gives us each year, each day. We can trust that, even in the darkest times, Christ is with us in glory. Are we ready to celebrate His birth? Are we ready for His return?

How will we prepare for the birth of Christ in our hearts and lives this year so it’s not something we go through, but rather something we live for.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

“Prayer and Praise” Week 3

This is our third week of intentionally taking time to give God thanks in all situations in our life, especially those times we may not see his grace and his active presence. God is always with us. Jesus said in Matthew 28, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are times we feel anxious, we don’t feel valued, we don’t have what we want. Jesus is with us in every situation. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray continuously.”

Each day this week, we are reminded to give thanks in all things.

Day 1: Praising God for his presence in all situations

Day 2: Giving thanks for opportunities to worship

Day 3: Giving thanks for people in our life who encourage us

Day 4: Thanking God for the opportunities to encourage others

Day 5: Praising God for the opportunities to see him in all aspects of our life when we look

Day 6: Praising God for listening to us and the chance to pray

Day 7: Praising God for answered prayers (even when it’s not the answer we asked for

I invite you to take time to read the scripture this week from 1 Samuel 1. See where you may fit in and see what God may be speaking to you this week.

1 Samuel 1:3-20

Every year this man would leave his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lordof heavenly forces in Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons Hophni and Phinehas were the Lord’s priests. Whenever he sacrificed, Elkanah would give parts of the sacrifice to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But he would give only one part of it to Hannah, though he loved her, because the Lord had kept her from conceiving.[b] And because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving, her rival would make fun of her mercilessly, just to bother her. So that is what took place year after year. Whenever Hannah went to the Lord’s house, Peninnah would make fun of her. Then she would cry and wouldn’t eat anything. “Hannah, why are you crying?” her husband Elkanah would say to her. “Why won’t you eat? Why are you[c] so sad? Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?” One time, after eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah got up and presented herself before the Lord.[d] (Now Eli the priest was sitting in the chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.) 10 Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. 11 Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” 12 As she kept praying before the Lord, Eli watched her mouth. 13 Now Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent, so Eli thought she was drunk. 14 “How long will you act like a drunk? Sober up!” Eli told her. 15 “No sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer but have been pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!” 17 Eli responded, “Then go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.” 18 “Please think well of me, your servant,” Hannah said. Then the woman went on her way, ate some food, and wasn’t sad any longer. 19 They got up early the next morning and worshipped the Lord. Then they went back home to Ramah. Elkanah had sex with his wife Hannah, and the Lordremembered her. 20 So in the course of time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, which means “I asked the Lord for him.”

“Prayer and Praise” Week 2

This week, we look at the passage in Mark 12. In this, we can see several things; but the biggest concept I think we can take out of it for this week, is the concept of giving thanks in our lack and being thankful for the opportunity to give.

Mark 12:38-44 “As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.” Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money.  One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.  Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

There is so much going on in this passage, that I invite each of us to take time and study what s being said and what is being done. It can be too easy to look at this and gloss over what Jesus is saying and the situation of the widow.

We are invited to spend some time in prayer daily this week, thanking God. Each day, we have an opportunity to be thankful for something different (and most likely something we would not give thanks for).

Day 1: Praise God for the opportunities to give

Day 2: Praise God for the position you are placed in and ask for guidance to use it to His glory

Day 3: Praise God for noticing situations that are wrong and ask for guidance, and the people, to work with you to fix it

Day 4: Give thanks for Jesus’ words that give life and challenge to us as we keep growing in our faith and relationship with others

Day 5: Give Jesus praise for His active presence in your life

Day 6: Praise God for His provision even in times of lack. Also give thanks for the opportunity to give even when we perceive a time of lack.

Day 7: Give God glory for this past week. Praise Him for everything He has done and praise Him, in advance, for everything He will do.

Prayer Walk (Mark 10:46-52)

Jesus and his disciples are walking from Jericho. Sometime today, tomorrow and the next day, I invite you to take a walk. Place yourself within this passage. It may be helpful to have a time limit, if you’re not used to doing an exercise like this.

I used to not enjoy reading when I was younger. So in my early twenties, I picked up some audio books and listened to them. This was something I enjoyed and found when I heard the story, I was able to remember it better and place myself within the story to picture it. One day I decided to pick up some books and read them. I began to picture the story line and the books began to come alive to me. This is one of the reasons I love to read the Bible: many stories in there that can actually tell our story.

So, this is an exercise to try and make the scripture come even more alive, in our imagination. I have found it is too easy to sit and read and not let the Word take root in us; but if we move like the people in the Bible, we’ll be able to experience more.

The exercise:

Read. Read the passage a couple times before heading out for a walk. (passage is below). If you have an audio version you can take with you on the walk, awesome.

Pray. Pray before heading out asking God to reveal himself to you in a new or different way.

Walk. This is one of my favorite parts. Walk and reflect on the passage. As you find yourself walking, picture the story happening right where you are. Imagine Jesus, the disciples, a crowd, a shouting person asking for help. Do you keep walking? Do you stop and just watch? Do you call someone else? Is it time to make fun of or chastise the person? Do we pray and ask God to send someone else so they can help?

Imagining the story like this helps me to be able to see God working in our day to day life. This also helps to remind me to look for opportunities to be present and see God, his people and his mission wherever I am.

Journal. I recommend journaling what you experienced, what God showed you on your walk. This way, it is easy to remember and we have a record we can go back and read later.

Pray. Pray again. This is a simple prayer of thanks. Thanking God for the opportunity to see the world as he sees it. Also, asking God to help us see the world and his people this way in all aspects of life.

Prayer walks are enjoyable to me. I hope God reveals himself to you as you try this exercise.

Next week, we begin a new series on “Giving Thanks.” We’ll have one devotional each week for the month of November, but there will be 7 things to pray for (one for each day of the week). I’m excited about this upcoming series and seeing what will happen when we take intentional time to thank and praise God, even the trials we experience.


Mark 10:46-52 (CEB)
Healing of blind Bartimaeus
Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.