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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
Read John 20-21.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is a story of second chances. No, this isn’t a plug for KFC, and this is not a sponsored post (though I will happily accept a chicken sandwich anytime). Harland Sanders, the founder of KFC, spent more time in his early years failing than he did succeeding. He failed at his law career, failed at multiple businesses, and even failed to get other restaurants to use his secret recipe for chicken. But most of us don’t know these things because we only know of the great triumph of Col. Sanders’ chicken.
Peter was a failure, too. For all his brashness and bravado, when he was put to the fire, he failed. He denied and abandoned Jesus. This could have been the end of his story. We all probably would have understood if Jesus had risen and appeared to the disciples and just told Peter to leave. “You promised me you would never deny me, and it took less than a day!” But this is the message of John 21: Jesus is bigger than our failures. His grace and mercy is greater than our sin. He doesn’t just forgive Peter; he tells him to lead. He sends him out on mission. “Yes, you denied me, but I am going to use you still. Feed my Sheep!”
You may have failed. You may have lost. In his great grace and mercy, God still wants to use you, friend.
Read John 14-15
Sometimes we all just need a little bit of help. The older I get the more evident this becomes in my life. I like to say I am at the fun age of being young enough to able to get many things done on my own but old enough to know better than to try. Most of the time I am faced with a task I have never done before, I start looking around for ways to get help. Maybe it is a youtube video that will show me how to replace that part in my car. Maybe it is finding a trusted friend who has the necessary skills to get the job done and asking them to teach me. Either way, it is almost freeing to admit I need help and finding that help.
Jesus knows that we are a people that need help, and in John 14 he promises that we will always have it when we need it. In this passage, he is trying to warn the disciples of what is about to happen. It is the passion week, and Jesus is just days away from the cross. The disciples are about to feel desperate and maybe even hopeless. Jesus is telling them that this is the will of the Father, and when it happens, when he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven, even then they will still have help. Jesus will send them the great comforter and counselor, the Holy Spirit. And he is coming to empower us for the mission Jesus has given.
Friend, remember the promise that you have in Christ, that as a believer you have the peace-giving, empowering, comforting, counseling Holy Spirit dwelling in you today. Whatever struggle or obstacle you face today, be it great or small, he is there to walk with you through it.
Read Luke 12.
We have probably all heard the phrase “rat race” before. Most of us, I’m sure, understand that idea of feverishly, tirelessly chasing after that ideal life full of wealth or power of maybe just comfort. Even if we have managed to avoid it in our own lives, we have seen its effects on people around us or in the culture at large. The question we often ask is “why.” Why chase after those things? Why devote so much energy to gaining what we can’t keep at the end of our lives? I firmly believe the “rat race” often boils down to fear. Maybe a fear of the legacy you will leave behind. Maybe it’s a fear of not being seen as someone of value. I’m am sure there are many fears at play. I am also sure that in those cases our fears are sorely misplaced.
The gospel writer Luke shares with us one of Jesus’ sermons where he gives us a clear picture of where our fear ought to be placed. Our fear should not be in any person or place or thing of this world. At the end of the day, what power do they have except that which is temporary or borrowed? They may hurt or even destroy my physical body, but that is the limit of their abilities. But God controls all things. His power is complete. Total. All-encompassing. He sees what is public and private and he will sit in judgment over body and heart and soul. And Jesus could have stopped here. The sermon could have ended at verse five ‘Yes, I tell you, fear Him!’ But Jesus turns it on its head.
There in verse seven, after giving us all the reason in the world to truly fear God and his judgment, he says this, “Fear not.” How can Jesus put these two sentences in the same sermon, much less the same paragraph? Because God, being the good father that he is, has the authority to judge, the power to carry out his judgment and the promise that he will do so, but he also loves us with such a deep love that when we experience it, even when we wrong him, we long to run to him. Jesus reminds us that he values us more than all of creation, more than the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. And if he protects and provides for them as he does, how much more will he do the same for those of us that call out to him?
Friend, my prayer is that today you rest in the promises of God, that he judges rightly and justly but loves fiercely those who call out to him and acknowledge him before the world.
Read Matthew 1-2
I am sure that almost all of us have seen any of the popular family ancestry websites and services out there. For just a small fee, a company can tell you where in the world your DNA comes from, or they can find out all about your family history. The world has found–in a fresh and new way–the importance of family history. But this is something the authors of scripture knew long ago. And when we look at the genealogies found in scripture we see important things about the family of God as well. Matthew 1 is a great example of this.
There are some very interesting things we see when we look at who gets included in the genealogy in Matthew 1. We see the most unlikely of people included in the line of Jesus. People we would never think to include or maybe even people we would want hidden from our own line. Murders, prostitutes, adulterers. The hurt and broken. All of them brought into the family of God, into the people of God. All of them used by God.
God doesn’t do things in the manner or timing we expect. God doesn’t only use the people we would expect him to use. Matthew shows us that what Jesus did in his ministry is what God has been doing throughout history and what he will continue to do. You may not think that God can use you. That you don’t have the personality or the gifting to be used. The accuser may have convinced you that your past mistakes make you untouchable. Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is sufficient. That his mercy is beyond comprehension and given freely to those who ask. If today you struggle to see how God can use you, remember how great his grace is and how God has made a habit of using the broken to point people to the wholeness found in him.
Read Nehemiah 10.
Conviction is a funny thing. There is a lot we could say about conviction today, but primary to this passage is the way that the Holy Spirit can use it to take us to places that we spiritually never thought we could get to. We tend to have a pretty low view of the things we can do for God. And if we were working under our own power, that view might be accurate, but we have another power in us. The Spirit is always working to take us deeper into relationship with God.
Israel has returned from exile. Under the leadership of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel they have rebuilt the temple, the wall, and the people. And now the people have gathered together and heard once again the law of the Lord. They grieve over their own sin and confess that to God. Under the conviction of their sin, they vow before God to hold up their end of the covenant God made with them. They will strive to be His people. But thats not all. They go even further. They vow to give more and serve more and be more generous than they ever were before as a nation. They will give more of their time and energy to God than they ever have.
This is the wonderful thing about conviction. It drives us into the hands of a loving Father. It shows us how shortsighted we have been and reveals how much we can do for God that we haven’t been doing or perhaps even thought ourselves incapable of doing. We get down on ourselves often. “I can’t pray well.” “I’ll never be able to read my Bible consistently.” “I can’t give to the church because I need that money.” These are all statements we make while assuming we can’t go spiritually deeper than we already are. My prayer is that the Spirit would convict each of us so that we trust him more. That we might give more, love more, and lead more people to Christ.