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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Rhythm: Abiding and Bearing Fruit

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S (Scripture): John 15:1 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

O (Observation): What is the point of being a disciple? That one produces fruit for God and God’s Kingdom. How does one bear fruit? By being a branch connected to the vine – Jesus. How can one stay connected to the vine (and this bear fruit)? By remaining / abiding in Jesus, the vine!

So we are supposed to bear fruit and stay connected to Jesus.

Seems simple, but can be very hard.

A (Application): Over my studies of discipleship, I’ve come across a great illustration of remaining connected to the vine and also of producing fruit for God’s Kingdom.

First, a disclaimer: only because Christ makes it possible, can we produce fruit for the Kingdom. This devotion leans towards what we can do with salvation, and is not about how we earn salvation!

Second, the key to abiding and bearing fruit is to know that these two elements that seem like opposites belong on either sides of a pendulum swinging back and forth. On one side “Abide.” On the other side: “Bear Fruit.” (Annalternstive is Rest / Work.

An illustration: when I began serving the congregation I’m serving now, I drew the picture included in this devotion (see above). I asked them where the congregation felt they were on this pendulum. They mark the spot towards the work / bearing fruit side. The sentiment was: “we’ve got a pastor, so let’s get moving!”

Then I asked them: “When you make a new friend, or add a family member through marriage or birth, what do you typically do?” They all responded with remarks that belong to more of the abide/rest side of the pendulum swing. They realized that having a new pastor on board would mean that we would want to get to know one another and become one, before we started getting very active toward the bearing fruit side. We needed time to dwell together and be together.

Jesus knew when working with the disciples that they would experience times and seasons when they would need to simply remain in Christ and be one with Christ in order to be strengthened for the times when they would have to go and bear fruit.

This same sentiment holds true for you and me today.

If you are all work and no rest, you will burn out. If you are all rest and no work, you will not produce fruit. Imagine the pendulum swinging back-and-forth causing you to find rhythms of rest and work of abiding and bearing fruit.

How are those rhythms working for you these days? What is your daily rhythm? Your weekly rhythm? Your monthly or annual rhythms?

P (Prayer): Lord, you sustain by inviting us to abide in you. Help us also to bear fruit for you and your kingdom! Amen.

P.s. this concept and image comes from elements taught by 3D Ministries (3DM; https://3dmovements.com/)

Bound up? (This is not a laxative commercial : )

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S (Scripture): John 11:38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb [of Lazarus]. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

O (Observation): Jesus is greatly disturbed. His friend has died. Mary and Martha and several others are almost disappointed in Jesus. He could have prevented this! Or could have come sooner…before the customary 3 days passed, in which it might have been possible to re-unite the spirit to the body.

But alas…Lazarus has been dead 4 days! A life ended. No more work for Lazarus. No more will Lazarus use his gifts and talents for the Lord…for loved ones.

Jesus is greatly disturbed. But why? Because his friend has died? Yes. And…

He sees that those around him do not understand what Jesus said just a little bit earlier:

John 11:25 Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus is also disturbed because the group he is leading doesn’t yet believe that God holds power over life AND death. Soon, God would prove this by raising Jesus from the dead.

In the end of this scene, Jesus’ last command is simple. “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus’ work is not yet complete. Perhaps God has more in store for him. Perhaps Jesus just needed to show the world that God is the God of life AND death. That not even death can separate us from God!

A (Application): The short question is this: What is binding you? What is holding you back? Do you not believe that God is with you? If not, no worries…God is still there. : )

May the Spirit move you not only to faith (being raised as Lazarus was raised), but also to action (“Unbind him! Unbind her!”).

May you receive God’s blessing this day to be set free to do God’s work. May you find the persons to walk alongside you as you do this work.

P (Prayer): Lord, unbind us for your sake and for the sake of our neighbor! Amen.

What Do I Do Now?

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S (Scripture): John 6:26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

O (Observation): The crowd of 5,000 has had their fill of loaves and fish. Now they believe another sign is required for them to do God’s work.

The work, Jesus says, is much more simple than even that. Simply believe that Jesus (God’s Son) was sent by God. They don’t like that though. They feel the need to DO something.

A (Application): Why do we always feel the need to DO something to work towards salvation? Jesus says the work is simply starting with the belief that God is already at work.

Any work we do is based on the fact that God has already done the work of forgiveness and reconciling us to God. Jesus has taken the power of sin and has overcome it.

Now, we are free to move about the world following our callings for the sake of God’s work. We are set free from saving ourselves – Jesus does that for us. We are set free for meeting the needs of those around us.

In this, we have our freedom.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me believing in your Son. Amen

God in the Everyday

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S (Scripture): Luke 20:20 The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. 22 Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them, 24 “Show me a coin. Whose image and inscription does it have on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

O (Observation): So you’re trying to paint me into a corner, huh? Trying to get me to pry apart faith from the rest of my life. Trying to get me in trouble…start a riot if I say, “No.” Get my people to hate me if I say, “Yes.”

I see how it is.

Well…everything is spiritual. My decision to pay taxes doesn’t mean I’m against good order and government as a general rule. Nor does it mean I pay all allegiance to the rulers of this world. The Law does not say “yes” or “no” to paying taxes.

One can obey the Law and receive the grace of God while still paying taxes. They are not mutually exclusive.

A (Application): We can easily be distracted into making decisions that isolate our faith from our public life. We can easily be distracted by forgetting God in the equation of our daily decisions.

Keeping God in the center of our everyday lives is important. Whether it’s paying taxes or grocery shopping or driving down the road. God is there, too. Guiding us, correcting us, giving us grace. In everything.

God is with us when dealing with politics and faith and fun and work and everything in between. And that is a blessing to us!

From my friend, Delmer Chilton, in a 2014 Living Lutheran article:

Jesus calls us back from the brink of a serious mistake. In the midst of rendering unto Caesar, of doing your civic duty to the best of your ability, do not confuse your politics with your religion, nor neglect your God in the midst of your public service.

We are people of faith, which means we don’t rule from a position of absolute power nor do we neglect the directions our faith calls us.

We respond with respect and humility in our everyday interactions. Never neglecting our faith. Nor letting our faith rule in absolutes.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us in our everyday decisions. Amen.

When the Paycheck Doesn’t Come

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S (Scripture): Psalm 89

46

How long will it last, Lord?

Will you hide yourself forever?

How long will your wrath burn like fire?

47

Remember how short my life is!

Have you created humans for no good reason?

48

Who lives their life without seeing death?

Who is ever rescued from the grip of the grave?Selah

49

Where now are your loving acts

from long ago, my Lord—

the same ones you promised to David

by your own faithfulness?

50

Remember your servant’s abuse, my Lord!

Remember how I bear in my heart

all the insults of the nations,

51

the ones your enemies, Lord, use—

the ones they use to abuse

every step your anointed one takes.

52

Bless the Lord forever!

Amen and Amen!

O (Observation): Well…things don’t seem to be going so well for this psalmist. Like the world’s falling apart around him or her. This one seems troubled, as if the world is crashing down around them. And this trouble is about being conquered by a neighboring nation.

I almost hear an assumption that a life in God is meant to be without suffering or pain…and yet, here is pain and suffering.

A (Application): Juggling with work or purpose can tear us apart. If we are working, and we can’t quite find what we need…we can feel the weight, the burdens of this life. Pressure. Steady, unrelenting pressure.

We must produce! That is the mantra we Americans live by. We show our worth by what we produce in the next paycheck.

Yet, when the paycheck doesn’t come. When the child gets sick. When the parent’s dementia worsens. When we lose a loved one. We can feel defeated…just as the psalmist feels defeated.

Because we can’t see God through the pain and suffering.

But in those moments – however great or small – realize this: God is with you. God is not causing the pain or suffering, but God is with you.

God is with you through inspirational moments – like a ray of light shining through the clouds. Like a thought that inspires you to try something new. Like a new relationship that will guide you into a new connection for potential employment. Like a friend who knows a friend who has a job opening. Like a choppy sea that has been calmed.

We can and we will doubt along the way, but God will not doubt. Nor will God leave you. Even in the midst of your great pain. Allow God to bear the pain with you. And your burden will be light.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see you. Help us to reach out our hands and welcome the gifts that you bring us: time, grace, vision. Surround us with your peace. Amen.

God Rules, but not like “that”

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S (Scripture): Psalm 66

1

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!

Sing praises to the glory of God’s name!

Make glorious his praise!

Say to God:

“How awesome are your works!

Because of your great strength,

your enemies cringe before you.

All the earth worships you,

sings praises to you,

sings praises to your name!” Selah

Come and see God’s deeds;

his works for human beings are awesome:

He turned the sea into dry land

so they could cross the river on foot.

Right there we rejoiced in him!

God rules with power forever;

keeps a good eye on the nations.

So don’t let the rebellious exalt themselves.

O (Observation): This kind of psalm is a great way to celebrate God’s handiwork. God has rescued God’s people from slavery and this is most certainly to be celebrated. God’s work for humans is indeed glorious.

A (Application): And yet I can see how these kinds of words can be interpreted in our modern day context about how God MUST be obeyed by all nations and that all nations MUST submit to God. This is a very dangerous attitude, for God’s wisdom is beyond ours!

We think that we can capture God’s will with certainty, and start to apply these Scriptures in our country of America. We can start to assume that God is for “my” country. Did we actually corner the market on “God”?

I think we have a lot to learn, a lot of humility to express, and still need to spend a lot of time in prayer and conversation. If not, we will continue to harm many people in our country of America, and others across the globe.

God does rule, but not as a tyrant that disciplines lack of faith. God does rule, but not with weapons of destruction. God does set us free, not to prove we are the strongest, but so that we might spend our days having compassion on others and be about the work of lifting up others.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to know our place and to discern your will. Amen.