Luke 18

Read Luke 18.

So there is one thing I have noticed about people (specifically myself) as I have gotten older: our attention span is not nearly as long as we have a tendency to think it is. I am not talking about our ability to sit still for a tv show or movie or a lecture or whatever else we might be doing. Rather, I am talking about our ability to keep ourselves focused on a goal or some type of life change we want to make. We get distracted. We join the gym in January and realize in March that it has been 6 weeks since we last went. We set out to read one book a week and get two done in a year.

We do this spiritually as well, but if we aren’t careful, it becomes more insidious. We want to focus our lives on the things that matter. We start reading our Bible more regularly, praying on a daily basis, we might even join a D-group for accountability and growth. All of these are great things and live-giving habits to develop. But then they become routine and our heart starts to become proud. We lose focus and forget that God is less concerned with the habits we develop than he his about the heart that sought them in the first place. We begin to think highly of ourselves, “Look how good I have done!

We forget the our heart had been focused on growing closer to God, seeking to hear his voice and longing to be more like Christ. We forget the humility that drove us to his word and to our knees in prayer. We forget it was Christ that made a way and God who worked on our heart. You see, if we aren’t careful, we all have a tendency to become the Pharisee in Verse 11 while thinking we are the tax collector in verse 13. My prayer for you today is that you remember who you are in Christ and that in humility you continue to chase after him.

Luke 8

Read Luke 8.

The Christian world is full of so many platitudes that the truth behind them often becomes obscured or even forgotten. These things get repeated so often out of context that they lose their usefulness to us. While I am sad that there are no more brick and mortar Lifeway stores, I am not upset that there are fewer Philippians 4:13 coffee mugs out there. We see them so often that we forget that it’s not about you needing that cup of coffee because you stayed up to late watching a movie, but you can do all things so you are gonna make it.

There is a passage in Luke 8 that can, if we are not careful, become the same to us. It can become just another story that we take out of context and then use it to think God is a genie that will get us out of every bad situation. But that’s not the point of verses 22-25 in Luke 8. Let’s remember the context. Luke has spent the past few chapters showing that Jesus called those who followed him to a deep life of faith and not just any faith, but faith that showed itself in a changed life. We, as followers of Jesus, should look and act and talk and think differently. And one place that is seen powerfully in the life of a Christian is who we deal with difficulty and hardship.

So here are the disciples, crossing the lake, when a terrible storm pops up. And we know its bad because the disciples, with all their experience on the water, were terrified. So they wake up Jesus in the most dramatic way possible… “Jesus! We are dying!!” And after the storm is calmed Jesus asks them one question, “Where was your faith?”

We don’t follow Jesus because the life he gives us is free of difficulty. He doesn’t remove every danger. Rather he calls us to have faith that he is with us and he is greater than all of it. You may need to make a difficult decision, you may be facing rejection or hardship because of your faith. Maybe you are passed over for a promotion or your kid loses her spot on the team because you choose church on Sunday over work or practice. You may have a dear friend walk out of your life because you share the gospel. Remember friend, Jesus doesn’t keep our lives free of difficulty but he does promise to walk with us through it.

Revelation 4-5

Read Revelation 4-5.

What a question. “Who is worthy?”

Revelation is a book that entices and intrigues, as well as confuses and confounds. Many people have many different thoughts about much of the book. But as I read it, a couple things stand out as underlying themes for the original audience and for us reading it today. These stand out because they are not just themes of the book of Revelation but themes of the entirety of the Bible: Jesus and Hope.

John sees in his vision a magnificent view of the throne room of God with an angel ushering him in and God declaring that John is about to see the end, the victory that will come. But then tragedy, for the scroll with these things written on it cannot be opened because there is no one worthy to open them. All the angels, all the creatures, all the elders, and none can open the scroll. But then hope rises. I can almost hear the triumphal music crescendoing. The Lion, The Root, The Lamb is here and he is worthy!

So much of what we see today as we absorb the news or social media leaves us feeling like there is no hope in the world. As believers, however, we know that this is not the case. Our hope lies in the only one worthy. The Lion who fights for us, The Root who is our solid foundation, The Lamb who redeems us is our hope. And that is a hope that never fails.

Who is worthy? Jesus. Let’s worship him today.

2 Timothy 1-2

Read 2 Timothy 1-2

Most people think that in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey coined the phrase, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Maybe we could say that he said it much more concisely or perhaps the pithiness of his phrase has allowed it to catch on more, but a quick read through the opening chapters of 2 Timothy show us that Paul was saying the same thing to Timothy a long time ago. Paul, seeking to encourage the younger leader, calls him to “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” and to “guard the good deposit entrusted” to him. Paul wants Timothy to refocus his life and his work back to the gospel.

If social media is good for anything (and we probably all agree that it is debatable if it is), it is to be a distraction in our lives. I remember the opening days of Facebook, of Twitter and of Instagram. Even then very little redeemable gospel qualities could be seen in them. But now they serve only to bring out the worst in most people. If you are brave enough, I know it has taken courage for myself to practice this, look back at your last 10 posts and ask yourself, “Is this what I want to make people think my life is all about? Is this really the main thing in my life?”

In a world that craves the stuff that ought to be second, how can we make our lives clearly about the stuff that should be first? How can you be more intentional about putting the gospel front and center in your life? In your family’s lives? What decisions can you make today that will show people tomorrow that Christ is the main thing in your life? My prayer for you is that as you answer those questions, you will “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” to do those things that need to be done to keep the main thing the gospel.

Hebrews 1-2

Read Hebrews 1-2.

10 And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

 11  they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like a garment,

 12  like a robe you will roll them up,

like a garment they will be changed.

But you are the same,

and your years will have no end.”

Hebrews 1:10-12

You ever take your eye off the ball? Ever forget the big picture? The whole reason you are doing something in the first place? I think all of us have done this at some point with greater or smaller consequences. Last week at Kids Camp I took my eyes off the bigger picture while playing soccer and got so focused on what was right in front of me that when I kicked the ball I didn’t see that I had kicked it right at my own kid. Now the consequences here are small, Ethan was fine, he is a tough kid. But I have conversations all the time with students and parents that show the greater consequences of taking our eyes off the big picture, when we become too focused on the things right in front of us.

The whole point of the book of Hebrews is to remind us that regardless of what is right in front of us, Jesus is better. Here in the first couple chapters, we are reminded of the true nature of Jesus, that he is superior to everything else. And because Jesus is superior, we should always be on high alert to be sure that we aren’t neglecting this truth in our lives. Most of us would never do this intentionally, but we get distracted by the opportunities right in front of us, by the trials afflicting us today, or by the temptations of sin. We must be sure to keep our eyes on Christ, keep him in our eyes as we make decisions and choose how we lead. Jesus is bigger. My prayer is that we all work to remember that.

Ephesians 1-2

Read Ephesians 1-2.

When was the las time you stopped and spent time thinking about how God has actively worked throughout your life? I mean when did you last really put some time into considering how God has blessed you or kept you from harm or brought you through difficult moments or used bad situations to make your need for him or some aspect of his character plain to you? Maybe all of us could stand to do that a little bit more. God is always at work in and around us. Let me give you a small example of what I mean.

In my personal time studying the word, I am reading through Mark’s Gospel. I have read through it several times before and I love some of the qualities of this book. I love the way Mark makes it clear that the gospel is a thing of urgency by using the word “immediately” often to give the reader a hurried sense of movement to the cross. I love how much time Mark gives to the cross reminding us how everything about his ministry builds to this. But, and this is relevant to today’s thoughts, I also love how Mark narratively reminds us about Jesus’ call to faith in who he is and what he can do for us. Just this morning I came to Jesus’ famous question for Peter “But who do you say I am?” Given the context, Jesus could have asked, “Do you believe in me?” This pushes us the reader into the same question, will we believe in Jesus?

And then I sit down to write this devotion from Ephesians 1-2. I am reminded of the centrality of faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” As followers of Christ we are called to a deep and growing faith. We are called to understand even this faith is a gift from God, its not a work or an earned prize for being amazing. We simply believe in God and his work through Christ. We are called to know his immeasurable riches in that faith. it is something that daily should lead us to our knees in humility and gratitude. So, in view of his immeasurable riches, let me ask again, when was the las time you stopped and thought about how blessed we are in Christ?

Romans 11-12

Read Romans 11-12

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members…”

This is probably not the most well know passage from Romans 12. You are most likely in the same place I am and remember verses 1-2. We know that we as believers are called to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” and that this is our “spiritual worship.” We remember that we ought to renew our minds instead of being “conformed to this world.” But the popularity of the quote ends there and so verse three often gets missed, but it is so deep and meaningful.

Following this encouragement to make our minds and indeed the fullness of our lives focus on the things of God, Paul gives us one way that this kind of living plays out in the lives of believers. When we begin to renew our minds by thinking on the grace of God and how far we fall from deserving it, it helps us put ourselves in the proper place. This is called humility. As we grow in humility, being constantly reminded of how great our God is, we grow in our love of other people and start to look for ways to serve those around us. And as we look for ways to serve other people, we start to examine how God, in his grace, has gifted us and how we can then turn those gifts back to serving other people.

And then I remember verse 4 and remember that this is how God designed us and how he designed the church! We are meant to serve and God gives the ability and gifting to serve each other. And this is his grace. This is a gift that he gives us. Remember that this week.

2 Corinthians 3-4

Read 2 Corinthians 3-4 .

Have you thought recently about how bold our world has become? In the age of the internet it is no uncommon thing to see someone boldly proclaiming their views on something. People will happily tell you what political candidate is the best or why a certain word someone used is now taboo or where the best place to get a haircut in town is or why that place is a scam after someone tells you to go there or the best kind of cobbler (c’mon people, its cherry and we all know it). We find ourselves in a culture that is incredibly bold about so many things that have such little eternal significance. The boldness is good, the content is lacking.

Scripture calls us to be bold but bold about the right things. Verse 12 of Chapter 3 says “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold”. Our boldness is not from things of the world. Our boldness is not from skills or achievements we have. Our boldness is not from some temporary authority or place we have. Our boldness should only be found in the hope that we have found in the work of Jesus Christ. Christ who rescued us. Christ who is transforming us “from one degree of glory to another.” Christ who sends to us the Spirit to live in us and give us the very boldness we so often use to proclaim everything but the gospel.

Paul drives it home for the church. Our hope is the type that is never perishing and never failing. It is a hope that is greater than any struggle or fear or doubt or persecution or failure. That means our boldness is of the same type, and it means that it is a boldness that always points towards that hope. So who needs your boldness in the gospel today? Is there a neighbor or a family member or a waiter or a store clerk that needs you to boldly proclaim the gospel today? Someone that needs you to boldly live the way Christ did so that they might ask for the reason for your hope? I am praying you feel that hopeful boldness today.

Acts 18:18-19:41

Read Acts 18:18-19:41

What a blessing it is to be a part of the body of Christ. God has wonderfully designed us to be social creatures. We are not meant to live in isolation. And a large part of that design is being with and around other believers. It is in that space that we grow and learn and serve and worship and fellowship and be who God has designed us to be.

In chapter 18 of the book of Acts, we see this idea play out in a wonderful way. Apollos comes to Ephesus to teach and preach the gospel, and he is good at it. We are told he is both eloquent and competent. But as we all do, he needs to grow. And he wants to grow, he is fervent in spirit. So in the body of the church Priscilla and Aquila teach him and help him. And then the church encourages him and continues to send him out to teach and preach.

How hard are you working to be a part of the body of Christ? How often are you making it to gatherings to be refreshed in your soul? How much do you enjoy being around the people of God? These are questions we should ask ourselves if we seek to grow in our faith and in our relationship to the church.

Acts 13-14

Read Acts 13-14

Any sports fan could probably list out for you multiple cliches related to their favorite sport. “One play at a time” or “The best defense is a good offense” or “Offense sells tickets, defense wins Championships” or “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

All of these cliches seem to give us some insight into how winning happens. You want to win? Well then, you evidently need to play one play at a time with the best offense and best defense and drop the idea of the letter ‘I’. I understand what all of these cliches are saying, and most of them have become cliches because there is at least some level of truth to them. But if you ask me, winning the big game has a lot less to do with these things and a whole lot more to do with everything that happens before the game starts. Thats right, games are won or lost at practice. And that is why I love Acts 13 and 14. They show us the “big game” of Paul’s first missionary journey, but they start with what lead them to success in the big game.

Acts 13 starts by showing us that the people of the church in Antioch were displaying their inward devotion by outward displays of obedience in worship, prayer, and fasting. They were doing the work before hand and expecting God to show up and teach them in that work. They worked together as the church to see what God had next for them. My prayer for us at Valley Creek today is that we would desire the same inward devotion and put it on display together in prayer and fasting and in fellowship and worship. So how can you make these things a more regular part of your walk with Christ and with those beside you in the fellowship of the church?