The Lord’s Power…Not Ours

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S (Scripture): Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered as a result of the trouble that occurred because of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. They proclaimed the word only to Jews. 20 Among them were some people from Cyprus and Cyrene. They entered Antioch and began to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus also to Gentiles. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

O (Observation): Stephen was stoned to death for witnessing to the people regarding Jesus as God’s Son. The Jews that stoned him stood their ground on their understanding of who God is and believed calling Jesus “Lord” was blasphemy.

As a result of this terrible act of hatred, Jesus’ believers were scattered. Well, only God could turn tragedy into triumph. Having been scattered after Stephen’s death, Stephen’s cohorts continued to share God’s Good News of hope and salvation for ALL people into the towns of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The result: more believers!

And the key is in v. 21:

Acts11:21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a large number came to believe and turned to the Lord.

God was at work in the midst of the witness of Jesus’ followers.

A (Application): How often do we believe that “we” bring God’s presence into the room?

When I go to visit someone at the hospital, I must realize that God was there before me, is there with me, and remains with the person when I leave.

When I preach, I’m not starting from nothing: God’s presence is there already.

When I talk to a stranger about my faith, I need not worry, for God will prepare the words for me to say (though it’s a good idea to practice some words in the meantime : )

We have the distinct privilege and advantage knowing that – like Stephen’s cohorts – that the Lord is doing the work through us. We use our energy and senses to carry the Gospel, but God’s power is what changes hearts and minds.

So, we prepare…we show up…we do the work we are called to do…and the Lord’s power moves from there.

P (Prayer): Lord, Work your power through us, in us, even in spite of us. Amen.

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Lead Me Beside Still Waters

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S (Scripture): Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
3 he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
5 You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.

O (Observation): This famous psalm is a psalm of assurance for those in dire circumstances. This faithful witness provides hope to all who are facing difficulties.

This psalm is full of wonderful images that contrast the challenges facing the person described in the psalm.

A dark valley full of danger, with God protecting with rod and staff. Enemies ready for battle, but a table – a sign of comfort and fellowship – where opposing forces will come together in peace. And instead of death and peril chasing the psalmist down, goodness and mercy (faithful love) will pursue.

Comfort and mercy in challenging times.

A (Application): With this psalm as our guide, we are given assurances (and reassurances) that God does not leave us orphaned or alone.

Six years ago, I was installed as pastor of the congregation I am now serving. A little over 6 years here and a little over 4 years in a prior call. Over 10 years of experience…and I’ve had my ups and downs – valleys and mountaintops – in both places.

On March 31, I will have been married 17 years…and yes, ups and downs, to be sure.

Kids…our oldest will be 15 on Feb 23. Our middle just turned 12. Our youngest is 5. Ups and downs? You betcha!

But through it all…through multiple moves (living in many states and in many places over the last two decades)…through debt and financial struggles…through ups and downs…God is with us.

God has been with us, even when confronted with enemies or challenges beyond our control. God has been with us, giving us images of sustenance, leading us beside still waters and making us whole, when we have felt broken.

Sometimes it looked like family, friends, or strangers entering our lives and making us feel whole. Too many stories to share here. But please see this as my witness to the joy God has brought to my life – so that I might share that joy with others. And i hope God might use me to be the sustenance for others around me – for friends, family, and even strangers.

P (Prayer): God, create a wholeness in me. Help me to be a part of your mission to bring healing and wholeness to others around me. Amen.

You serious, Clark?

(Ok, I know Christmas has come and gone, but this quote from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation popped into my mind writing this devotion. Really, John? You serious? I don’t know ’bout dat.)

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S (Scripture): Matthew 11:2 Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

4 Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. 5 Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”

O (Observation): John, of all people, should know who Christ is! Not only is he Jesus’ cousin, but shouldn’t John – the messenger – know of whom he speaks?

Nonetheless, Jesus’ response is not anger or frustration; rather, he invites John’s disciples to come with him to hear and see what Jesus has been up to. In this way, they will “see and hear” for themselves, and believe.

And to support the fact that Jesus is the promised one of God, he quotes Isaiah: the blind see, the deaf hear, dead are raised, the Good News is proclaimed. Jesus is the Christ – the promised, the anointed, the holy of God.

A (Application): Lots of promises and hopes in our world. We like to see these promises backed up with results / proof. If not, we become very skeptical. Perhaps this is what was going through John’s mind? Or maybe John knew, but his disciples needed some prodding.

What we are left with – in the wake of Jesus’ ministry – is hope for the hopeless and affliction for the comforted.

We seek God’s hope in this world full of criticism and self-righteousness. We seek healing for those born into challenging circumstances. We seek hope for the young people in our country being inundated with all kinds of narcissistic and self-indulging behaviors encouraged by so many. We pray we can learn from our older generations, that we might glean wisdom from their experiences and understand where they have seen God’s handiwork in their lifetimes.

Jesus walked this earth. His witness and the Spirit that burst forth at Pentecost still affect us this day. May we continue to hear and see the work of the Christ in our midst…and may we be the hands and feet through which the Christ continues His work.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to hear…to see. Amen.

Cracked Pots for Jesus!

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

O (Observation):  Paul acknowledges the gift of God – the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.  Paul recognizes that this gift comes to him and the fellow believers, and declares that they – the vessels – are as fragile as clay pots.   Clay pots can be broken, but can also contain water, wine, grain, etc.

The earthly nature of these pots makes them frail, but also powerful as carriers of material.

In this case, the Christian witnesses, as imperfect as they are, have a very important message to carry.

A (Application): Cracked pots for Jesus!  That’s what we are.  God chose us, the church, to carry forth an amazing story and testimony to share with the whole world.  The image of the clay pot helps me understand that my witness, as powerful and wonderful as it is, is all about what’s INSIDE the clay pot, and NOT ABOUT THE POT ITSELF (I.e. ME)!

I am breakable, I am frail.  Yet I am the one, and you are the one, who has been given divine knowledge to carry with us and to share with others.  Again, it’s about the message, not the messenger.

Let us be as humble as clay pots, but also brave witnesses to the gift of God in Christ Jesus.

P (Prayer): Lord, we can get to big for our britches sometimes.  Help us to know our place in your Kingdom, and to be bold and brave in delivering your message to the world.  Amen.

A Light in the Dark

  S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 7:12 To the rest I say – I, not the Lord – if a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is happy to live with him, he should not divorce her. 7:13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him. 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband.  Otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 7:15 But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound.  God has called you in peace. 7:16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will bring your husband to salvation?  Or how do you know, husband, whether you will bring your wife to salvation?

O (Observation): Before we jump to practical application, we make some observations…and here are mine:

  • This is not a law we enforce. 
  • The broader idea is that one person in a relationship can influence the other.
  • The standards which believers hold themselves to will be different than the ways of the world. 

Paul thinks about community, and how it applies to individual relationships.  He doesn’t want individual believers dismissing their significant others if they don’t believe in Jesus.  Rather, he calls on believers to know that they can impact the faith lives of their significant others.  

A (Application):  As I broaden this theme, I wonder about how we apply this principle of being one with non-believers in our worshipping community?   Can we welcome in people who struggle with or doubt their faith?  YES!  at least, I hope it’s a yes…

After all, isn’t that our call?  To fish for people?

As we use UP-IN-OUT as a model at our congregation, we hope that the people we meet in our community (OUT) might one day become people we celebrate and join in friendship (IN).  

As I prepare for a funeral of a sibling of one of our church members, I’ve been thinking about how Jesus is a light in the dark (John 1).  I’ll be reminding those gathered today that Shannon was a light the darkness of of the lives of others, just as Christ is a light in all of our lives.  

Who has been brave enough to show you the light in dark times? And in whose life (lives) are you shining the light of Christ?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, relationships mean everything to us.  Help us to be witnesses to those with whom we are in a relationship.  Help us to be kind and understanding to one another and give us strength to make that witness joyful. Amen. 

Untouchables

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…well…a different kind of untouchable…

S (Scripture): Acts 10:25 So when Peter came in, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him. 10:26 But Peter helped him up, saying, “Stand up. I too am a mere mortal.” 10:27 Peter continued talking with him as he went in, and he found many people gathered together. 10:28 He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean.

O (Observation): Preceding this reading, God sends a vision to Peter, beginning in Acts 10:11,

Peter saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. 10:12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. 10:13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!” 10:14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” 10:15 The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!”

Peter extends this revelation beyond food, and into a new understanding of how to relate to people considered “unclean” by the culture or The Law. So even though he would be considered ritually unclean by the majority of his religious cohort, God has seen fit to help Peter blaze the trail for a new way to relate to those considered outside of salvation.

Perhaps this new way to relate to these folks and speak with them is so that they can hear of the love and power of Christ firsthand. Now, Jesus’ followers can be witnesses to those who don’t know of or believe in Jesus Christ, the Resurrected Lord and Savior.

A (Application): Who do we considered unclean? What are some places that we say to ourselves: “I just can’t go there.”?

This episode changed the game for evangelism. We take the field, equipped to go anywhere. The Lord doesn’t promise that everyone will like us, but does tell us that no one is to be considered “untouchable.”

P (Prayer): Lord, our sinful side puts up walls and borders and boundaries. Please help us to “tear down that wall” (couldn’t help the Reagan reference) and turn our walls into tables of reconciliation and peace. Amen.

(P.s. Extra prayers needed today…

Lord, we pray for the victims in Paris, shot and wounded today. May your justice reign, and bring peace to the victims of the lost and wounded.

Healing God, be with my friend, John, hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. Amen.)

Isn’t it Ironic?

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S (Scripture): John 4:42 The Samaritans said to the (Samaritan) woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.”

O (Observation): Jesus Christ had such an impact on the Samaritan woman, that she comes to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then, she goes back to her own people, and shares this Good News of Jesus Christ, who can providing water that will quench thirst forever.

The woman with whom Jesus spoke became His advocate. This is the introduction to faith in Jesus, for the Samaritans.

And ironically, this scene begins part of the fulfillment of some words found earlier in this Gospel: John 1:11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him.

And who did receive him? The Gentiles/Samaritans. Ironic.

A (Application ): I can’t tell you how many times I blew off my parents’ advice. I can find my own way, thank you very much. I know better. I got this.

Sometimes we step out and learn on our own. Make mistakes, and hopefully learn. (And then later on, we regret that we hadn’t listened to our parents in the first place : )

Jesus wasn’t about to make anyone believe in him, not even his own people. He was simply going to do God’s will, which included sharing the Good News of forgiveness, grace, and love, that God extends to ALL people. So he had a conversation with a person who was outside the culturally accepted norm, and she came to believe.

Like a child not wanting the parents’ advice, most of Jesus’ own (i.e. the Jewish people) did not want to to hear that forgiveness was available to ALL people. All who believe are accepted.

Some of Jesus’ own came around, but he wasn’t concerned with winning them all over. He entrusted his disciples to the work of witnessing and healing and teaching.

And so we Dig Daily into Scripture. We listen for what God is saying to us at this moment. We seek to do God’s will. And we share this gift even if it’s just with one person at the watering hole. You never know with whom they’ll share the story and who might come to believe.

P (Prayer): Lord, I thank you for my parents who passed on the faith to me, but also who showed me how to embrace forgiveness and equality for all. Amen.