Christ Lives in Me

April 8, 2017 – Saturday
faith 2
Read: Galatians 2:19 – 21, NIV
Focus: v. 20, NIV

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It would not be a bad idea to go back and read verses 11 through 18 to get the context for why Paul is writing these words. He is taking Peter to task because he was not acting honorably before both Jews and Gentiles at the church in Antioch. Actually, he was being two-faced about the whole thing and was rightly called out by Paul. When Peter was with the Gentiles he acted just like them and ate just like them but when certain Jews of the circumcision party came to visit (and spread their brand of poison – my words) he quietly defected to them to the extent that even Barnabas, Paul’s co-worker was co-opted into doing the same thing and other Jews who had been working with and eating with the Gentiles also fell away.

Paul is simply pointing out that adherence to rules intended to enforce the Law was now actually unnecessary because we are now in an era of grace and not Law. Verse 21 makes that abundantly clear. Our purpose in these devotionals is to emphasize what was accomplished by and through the Cross. Paul is making the point by using himself as an example that he himself had been crucified with Christ. His point is that the life he now lives in the body is one of faith in the One “who loved  (him) and gave himself for (him)” (vs. 20). The indication in the earlier portion of verse 20 is that not only was Paul crucified (spiritually) with Christ but he was also resurrected (spiritually) with Christ. He is living life by faith and not by works. In other places, Paul makes it clear that works are meant to be an expression of one’s faith and not a substitute for faith.

What kind of life are you attempting to live as a believer? Is it one filled with rules you absolutely “must” keep in order to get into heaven? Or, is it a life that is filled with the freedom that comes from living by “faith” and not works? Don’t get me wrong here – works will come but are more an expression of our faith and not intended to allow us into God’s presence. Only Jesus’ finished work on the Cross allows that to happen when we accept and live the life of faith. Dorcas and others mentioned in the New Testament were often eulogized for their good works but those good works were also recognized as arising from their faith and not as an attempt to somehow get into God’s good graces. Doing good works is a hallmark of being a Christian but it must be understood that the desire and strength come through faith.

Only with Faith

March 7, 2017 – Tuesday
Faith
Read:  Hebrews 11:5 – 6, NIV
Focus:  v. 6, NIV

“For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

This whole chapter in Hebrews is sometimes referred to as the “Hall of Faith.” The NIV translators and publisher chose the title – “Faith in Action.” Both are good headings. The list of names in this chapter reads like a “Who’s Who” of biblical history. Our passage for today was chosen for the particular reason that it focuses on an aspect of faith we often fail to take into account. The “short story” (very short) presented is of a man called Enoch. There is not much written about him in the Old Testament. In fact, his whole story is found in Genesis 5:18 – 24. This is more than some have had written about them, even though it is short. Some are barely a name in a list of “begats.” However, there is one salient fact presented about Enoch which became important to the writer of the book called Hebrews. “Enoch walked with God then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). All the others listed have after their name, “he died.”

What was special about Enoch – he “walked with God” – means that he chose his path to be the path God had for him. He was walking so closely with God and it was so real that at one point, as someone put it, God said to him, “We are closer to my home than yours so come with me.” He never saw death as all of mankind (with only two exceptions that we know of) has experienced. “Walking” is a euphemism for “living” which indicated that the life Enoch was living was pleasing to God. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear as well when he records the words, “For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God” Heb. 11:5b, NIV). This is further confirmed in our focus verse in the words, “without faith it is impossible to please God,” carrying the import that faith is of utmost importance in our relationship with God.

How is your faith today? Is it strong? Are you secure in your faith? Are you pleasing God today in all you do? Apparently only Enoch and Elijah were chosen by God to not experience death. Now, I’m pretty sure they were not perfect in all things but apparently close enough that God chose to just take them to be with him. Moses wasn’t chosen. Neither was Abraham or any of the other patriarchs of faith. Just Enoch and Elijah were chosen. Pleasing God is associated with faith in the Bible and it is apparent that this can only be done through the exercise of faith with regard to this special relationship we can have with our heavenly Father. Faith is a trust thing. How do you really trust God? Hmm! Think on that!

Day 19 – Not Enough

Thursday – December 15, 2016 

Read: James 2:14-17
Focus: vs 17
day-19
 “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith You must also do good to prove that you have it. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all – it is dead and useless.”

Christmas seems like the perfect opportunity to live out this statement that “it isn’t enough just to have faith – we must also do good to prove that we have it.” James says that “Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works . . . is dead and useless.” Wow! That hurts! If I love to study about God, and I really have faith in Him, and I can talk a good talk, and my words can persuade many to follow Him – and yet I don’t take time for good works, my faith is dead and useless?! That does not seem fair, on its surface. After all, we each have our own gifts and talents, right? So you can do lots of social ministry, and be all the time visiting the imprisoned, and clothing the naked – I’ll study hard and pray lots, and be very persuasive and perhaps win many to Christ – won’t that work? Well, James says not! He says that each of us must be doing both things – that our faith is made complete by our good deeds. Unless we do both, we are not truly a person of faith.

In one of our churches, several of us set up what we called a “Faith-Works Closet” where we kept a supply of clothing, household goods, personal care items, food, baby items, etc. But part of the area was set aside for literature and coffee and donuts and conversation. We hoped to share our faith and our good works. Leaving the results to God, we did our best to show true Faith – not for our own glory but because we are told by God to do this, not just on Christmas but all year long. I believe we were blessed and that we blessed others.

The year 2016 has been a rough year for Christians, I think. Every day, everywhere we looked, we were slandered and maligned and told that we need to be more tolerant of things God calls sin. Many of us did our best to stand up for the faith we have been given and to try to do good to as many people as we could. It seems that God has heard our prayers and honored our actions, but it also looks as though the battle between good and evil will continue raging – perhaps the best plan is to keep telling our world about the hope we have in Christ, while continuing the good works He calls us to do. “My heart has been stirred to action, Lord – Give me insight and strength to add mercy to my walk with You.”

MAR

Day 8 – Faith in Christ Brings Healing

Wednesday – February 17, 2016

Day 8 – John 4:46-5:17 Healing

Focus: vss. 4:49-51

49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.

We like to think that we are hard-wired to act only on that which we can see. I suppose an example of that is with regard to weather forecasts. I, and a lot of others, tend to think that until it happens I won’t believe what the forecaster is saying. Do I believe that what they say is possible? Yes, I do, however I am more likely to think and say that I will believe it when I see it because I have seen too many forecasts which did not work out as they said they would.

I am impressed by this official (vv. 49-51) who came down to Cana from Capernaum specifically to ask Jesus to come and heal his son. He obviously thought Jesus could do this. Capernaum was about 15 miles from Cana, so it was considered a day’s journey. He wanted Jesus to go back with him to Capernaum to heal his son. There was urgency in this request as the son was apparently so sick the father thought he would die if they did not go quickly. That would have been another day of travel. Jesus instead shows his compassion and power by healing from a distance.  I readily agree that there is a difference between a weather forecaster and what Jesus did here. Jesus was not forecasting but simply showing His power to do things as he desires. I found it interesting that this man “believed” twice. He believed Jesus could heal his son even at a distance when Jesus told him his son was healed. Then after arriving at home to discover that his son was healed at the exact time Jesus said he was healed caused him to believe again. The first time he believed Jesus could heal. This second time he believed that Jesus was the Son of God (Messiah).

It is very human to want to see something for yourself before we believe it is real. The test of faith is that we believe it will happen before we actually see it in fact. Where are you in this area? Do you still want it to happen right then before your very eyes or are you willing to take by faith that what Jesus says He will do He does?

Both stories in our reading for today speak of healing that comes about because of faith. In the second story the man by the pool was healed when he took Jesus at His word and got up, took up his mat and walked. He acted on his faith just as the official acted on his faith. The result was healing in each instance. How real and active is your faith? Is Jesus Who He says He is? If that is really true, then what is our response or reaction to Him? Jesus was asking each of these men to act out of faith. They had hope in something but they needed to act on that hope. The “if” loomed large but was supplanted by a “yes” of belief for each of them.

Prayer Focus: Lord Jesus, I often get hung up on the “if” of a situation. If I can get in the pool first, if You will come back with me – then what I desire will be given me. Help me to go directly to what I am asking and expect You to answer. Sometimes what I expect to happen does not happen but instead You answer in another and even better way. Your way is always best. I will rest on that. AMEN.

Humble and Contrite

12-15

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

Do you remember King David’s reaction to the prophet Nathan when he finally experiences the guilt of his sin with Bathsheba? David committed horrible acts in order to fulfill his desire and infatuation with this woman – even murder. God didn’t let it go unpunished. David was confronted by Nathan who told him a story about a rich man who takes what is dearest to his poor neighbor in order to feed a traveling visitor to his home. David was outraged and demanded to know who this despicable man was. Imagine his feelings and response when Nathan tells him it He is that despicable man. David, when confronted with his guilt, was broken. His spirit was contrite and God forgave him.

The context of our passage in Isaiah is a withering condemnation, by God, of those who fake their faith in God while following their own desires and the gods that represent them. It is harsh, to say the least, and God makes it clear that those fraudulent believers will get what’s coming to them. At the same time, Isaiah 66 provides a beautiful picture for those true believers who endure the scoffing of the enemies that live within the very walls of their sanctuary. They will be comforted and “dandled” on the knees of God. “Dandling” refers to a parent that playfully bounces their child on their knees. You’ve seen it before; you’ve probably done it yourself with your children. What a beautiful picture as God brings about smiles and laughter from His people like the happy and loved children they are. Who are these happy and loved children? Who are these true believers? They are “those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at [God’s] word.”

Contrition refers to a brokenness of the heart. The picture is one of a heart smashed to pieces as it realizes its guilt when confronted with its sin. In Isaiah 66, God draws the comparison between the fakers and the real believers. The difference is their reaction to their sin – fakers keep faking and the believers are broken by the horror that they have wronged the God who loves them so. Which one are you? Do you care about the sin in your life? Do you go on each day as if it’s no big deal or does it offend your very spirit when you discover your guilt? There are many fakers in the Church – have you looked at your heart lately?

As you pray today, ask God to help you deal with the sin in your life. Is your heart hard and unconcerned about sin or is it broken when confronted with an offense? God wants Christians who are as concerned about sin as He is. He loves those who are humble and contrite in spirit and He wants to look upon you with favor. If you are confronted with the reality that your heart is not contrite in response to your sin, do not panic. It’s not too late for contrition.

 

The Living Hope of Christmas

12-14

3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last times.” 

HOPE!!  As we go through life, hope carries us onward.  When things “get tough” and we don’t know what’s ahead we rely on hope.  When we were missionaries in Africa, there were many times that we would hope for something that was needed.  One time as we prepared to make our monthly delivery of supplies to the three Wesleyan health clinics and one hospital, there was a great need for some kind of pain medication.  As we were about to leave the phone rang (that in itself was a miracle).  It was the postmaster saying, “You have parcels here, come collect them.”  Taking the parcels with us we proceeded on our way.  At lunch time we stopped to eat the lunch that we carried with us and then we opened the parcels.  Among the items in these parcels were four large bottles of Aspirin.  What a blessing.  God knew our need and provided for that weeks ahead of our receiving them.

Hope is a wonderful thing for our lives; however there is a hope that pervades all our human hopes and that is the living hope Peter wrote about in our Scripture for today.  Peter tells us that as we accept Christ as our Savior we receive a new birth that leads to a living hope.  What is this living hope?  It is the hope that accompanies faith.  Faith leads us into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or decay, an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us who are shielded by God’s power.

Wow!  What a hope!  We as children of God are given this wonderful gift when we accept Christ as our Savior.  As we are thrust into the commercialism of our society at this season of the year, let us pray that God will truly shield us and lead us into that living hope that awaits us at the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last times, our eternal life thru God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

Stormy Weather

In Church, we’ve recently begun a series of sermons talking about dealing with human suffering.  There have been several national tragedies in recent weeks and months so I wanted to post the sermons here for all to keep up with.  There are a few weeks left to the series and I will post the remaining sermons after they have been delivered on Sunday morning.

I hope these messages will offer some help in understanding the age old question of “Why does God allow suffering in the world.”  There are answers to questions like these but, as a pastor, I have often found that the worst time to offer these answers is in the midst of great suffering.  The best time to consider questions like these is when all is calm, not when the storms of life are causing wave after wave to crash over us.

I know that this issue is at the heart of many who have a difficult time believing in and accepting God.  If you are one of those persons, these messages are especially for you.  I’ve been through a few storms in my life and I can’t imagine going through them without God by my side and, sometimes, carrying me all the way through.

I believe there are seven sermons in this series in all so hang in there for more answers.

Stormy Weather - Scripture LogoI love weather.  I admit it.  My name is Dan, and I love weather.  And I’ve experienced my fair share of weather, growing up in Nebraska as I did.  I even lived in Oklahoma for four years.  Tornados galore.  Even in Mississippi I had the opportunity to experience part of a hurricane.  I’m just fascinated by the awesome displays of a nature that are so much more powerful than I am.  It reminds me of my God who is far more powerful than anything nature can offer.  I’m not a fan of destruction and pain, of course, but I don’t mind coming out of the other side of bad weather and being able to say I experienced something intense.  You may remember the storms that greeted Stacy and I as we arrived in Red Cloud last year.  That was just God’s way of welcoming me back home to Nebraska.    Anyone else enjoy the storms?

Speaking of storms, there’s a great story in Luke 8 about a storm. “22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

What a story!  I can just imagine being on that boat with these guys.  In my mind, I’m with the disciples one hundred percent.  The wind is crazy, the waves swamping the boat – you ever been in a boat on a lake when a storm is coming up the waves start churning?  Depending on the size of your boat, you may have experienced some of what the disciples were experiencing.  And then the rain comes.  Lightening, thunder, buckets of water.  The disciples are going nuts with fear and Jesus is sleeping like a baby.

You know, the only time I don’t like storms is when they come in the middle of the night.  Not because they wake me up and scare me, but because they don’t wake me up.  I sleep right through them.  I have to hear about them after I wake up.

So Jesus is sleeping through the storm.  He’s just not worried about it.  The disciples have to wake him up.   They were frightened and they thought He needed to . . . well, what did they think he needed to do?  Wake up and be as frightened as they were?  Or did they have some inkling that he could do something about it?  Remember, they’re still trying to figure this guy out.  And that day they figured something out.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm.  Have you ever tried to do that?  How’d it work for you?  I can tell you how it worked for Jesus – the storm stopped.  The skies cleared, the waves calmed, the wind slowed.  Safety returned.  Yeah, it works for Jesus and, just like the disciples, I’d have needed a hydraulic jack and three medical specialists to get my gaping mouth to close back to normal.

You want to know another reason I love storms?  Because life is filled with all kinds of crazy storms and, every time a freak-of-nature storm passes through, it reminds me that all of life’s storms have an end.  They don’t last forever.  They pass and, usually, I’m still standing.

The storms in life happen all the time.  Some of you are going through some real storms right now.  Hard stuff.  The hail is coming down and it’s big.  The lightening is flashing and the thunder is immediate and loud.  It’s scary and you probably feel a little like those disciples in the boat with a sleeping Jesus.  And you probably have questions right now.

Why do these storms happen?  Why do they happen to me?  Did I do something to cause this?  Why does God allow these things to happen in the first place?  What can I do to weather this storm?   Will I make it through the storm?  Is this you right now?  If it isn’t, I bet it has been you at one time or another.

I’ve said it before, life is hard and, in the end, nobody gets out alive.  Storms happen.  They happen often and I’ve watched a lot of storms blow through not just my life but also the lives of those around me.  So let’s talk about the storms and the questions that come with them.

I want to spend a few weeks dealing with those times when our world seems to be raging all around us.  I want to offer some answers that are often hard to hear and accept in the midst of the pain so that we can consider them during a time of rest and understanding.  More than that, I want to offer the hope and promise that God provides in the Bible to help us through the stormy times in our lives.

I was talking to my brother in Omaha a couple of years ago about the stormy weather we had been experiencing lately.  I recalled to him how, earlier in the week, I saw the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore giving an update from Council Bluffs (right across the river) with Omaha in the background.  There had been a lot of rain and some severe thunderstorms on that day and there was still lightening flashing in the background while he reported the day’s events.  I guess the mix of weather and the current College World Series going on there made it a good location to report from.  But Cantore had been doing those spots across the country where the storms have been.  My brother told me that folks had been getting worried whenever they saw Cantore show up in their home town because, where ever he goes, the storms seem to hit.  If only the storms in life were always so easy to predict.

Sometimes they are, most of the time they are not.  If only we had a storm-prediction center like that on the Weather Channel!  Maybe you’ve asked the question before, “Why do these storms have to happen in the first place?”  Wouldn’t life be so much easier without painful experiences and times where our worlds seem to fall apart?

Well, yeah, it would.  The core of this question is the fact that it’s hard to find someone who actually likes pain.  Nobody likes pain.  We’re all seeking some sort of Utopia in this life.  What do you suppose we would have to complain about if we didn’t have pain in our lives?  I suppose we would just redefine suffering to include all those times we don’t get our way on things.  Suffering will always be with us in this life.  It’s a result of Humanity’s sin begun by Adam and Eve.

Early on in Genesis we see the effect of sin on the earth itself.  No more Garden of Eden.  No more life going on forever here.  Death was set in motion and it is death, and the decay that leads to it, that causes the storms that occur in our weather as well as the natural disasters.  It is also the force at work that causes storms in life.  We are sinful and we live in a sinful and broken world.  Suffering, therefore, is now a natural part of living in this world.  No one avoids it.

Sin is also what separates us from God.  We have to understand that much of our suffering is caused by our lack of a perfect relationship with God.  I have to state it like that because anything less than perfection will never match up with God.  And sin has so messed that up that it is impossible for us to meet that perfection.  Our relationship with God suffers to the point that so many deny Him altogether and so many do not have the kind of relationship with their Maker that they should.  Sin separates us from God.  And being separated from God will cause suffering to occur.

Can anything good come from suffering?  That’s a good question to ask.   Author Paul Patterson III writes, “Pain is not a problem in and of itself.  But rather, it is a symptom, a sign of something gone wrong.  When one places their hand on a stove, the problem is not the pain but it’s the fact they are doing something that shouldn’t be done.  The pain in this world is simply a sign that something is wrong; something is seriously messed-up.  Without pain, we may never realize that something is wrong.’”

C. S. Lewis wrote an entire book on the Problem of Pain.  He writes, “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Is it just possible that God can use pain (as opposed to causing it) to draw us to Him?  Pain wakes us up to the reality that something is wrong with our world and it acts as a megaphone that speaks loud enough for us to actually hear God speak.  And when we hear God speak, we can begin a relationship with Him like no other.

American pastor and author James H. Brookes told of visiting a friend’s house and hearing the music of a bird singing. It was not the ordinary sound of chirping; instead it resembled the strains of a lovely melody. At first Brookes didn’t know where it was coming from; but when he glanced around the room, he saw a beautiful bullfinch in a birdcage. The lady of the house explained that it had been taught to sing that way at night. The teacher would repeat the notes time and again until the bird was able to mimic them. But this was possible only because it was dark and the bird’s attention would not be diverted.

How often we learn our sweetest songs when the blackness of trial closes in around us.

Pain and suffering can be used by God to bring us closer to Him.  It can be worth it in the end.  The experiences in our lives are what shape us.  They make us who we are.  What we become can be embittered by our sufferings, or we can draw closer to God and allow Him to use our suffering to transform us into the people He wants us to be.  People who please God and use our sufferings to reach out to others who are experiencing the same things.

We began the message today talking about Jesus calming the storm.  Not a single disciple in that boat was calm and sailing along without a care in the world.  So often storms bring out the fear in us.  We can look at the disciples and berate them for their lack of faith but that was a day where their fear caused them to reach out to God.  They may not have fully realized it at the time.  In fact, I’m sure they didn’t.  But they did provide for us an example in stormy times.  They cried out to Jesus.

Will Jesus always calm the storms in our lives?  No.  But He will always be a shelter, a calm place where we can go, while the storms rage on.

The Gift of God

Merry ChristmasIn a moment you’ll have the opportunity to read the final devotional in our Advent series for 2012.  This one was written by Rev. Rowland Benedict and it was a joy to work with my father to put all those devotions together.

Most of you will read this Christmas morning or sometime later but I wanted to take this moment to wish everyone a merry Christmas.  By now the hustle and bustle of Christmas is likely over.  The only thing left to do is unwrap all that has been wrapped.  I hope everyone spends a wonderful Christmas with family all around but I know some will be alone this Christmas.  For those that don’t have family or friends to spend the holiday with – Please remember that God, your Heavenly Father, is always with you.  He’s the best family around.  So Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope that Christmas morning brings joy, hope and love just like the baby Jesus on that first Christmas in Bethlehem.

Without further ado, here is your devotional for Christmas day:

Gift of God“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”  2 Cor. 9:15

Probably three or four years after my mother died and my three brothers, my sister and myself were all living with our maternal grandparents on a small farm in upstate New York, one Christmas we were all given brand new sleds.  We used to pore through the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs by the hour honing our wish lists as we fantasized about what we would like for Christmas.  Never, in our wildest imaginations, had we thought we would get new sleds.  We took turns using some old sleds that had probably belonged to our aunts or some of our older cousins.  They had bent runners and broken steering boards and were not very safe to use.  What joy was ours when we came down the stairs that Christmas morning and saw those sleds spread around the parlor!  Of course, we had to go outside as soon as grandma and grandpa would let us, and after our morning chores were done, so we could ride on those sleds.  What fun they were!

The most indescribable gift that has ever been given is the priceless gift from God the Father of his Son, Jesus, as our Savior that first Christmas morn over 2,000 years ago.  Our scripture portion is about the generosity we as believers are to show to others.  However, it is not just words.  Paul emphasizes that our generosity is to be based on the generosity of the Father in the giving of the priceless (indescribable) gift of His Son.  We can never match that, but we can emulate God by our acts of generosity not only at Christmas, but throughout all the days of our lives.

The greatest act of generosity we can show is to introduce people to our Savior and potentially their Savior.  He truly is “the Greatest Gift ever given!”

~Christmas Quote~

Christmas in Bethlehem.  The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.       ~Lucinda Franks