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Week 3 (3/29/20 - 4/4/20)

Devotional Day 13 - 3/29/20

Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.


Self-control. That is a tough one. There are things that are constantly bombarding us, and as this massive amount of stimuli invades our space and our thoughts, we often overload and we lose it. We lash out, we say things we don’t mean, we hurt the people we love, and in the end, we are left to pick up the pieces of the fallout caused by our tantrums.


Stuck in a house for long periods of time can make people go stir crazy, let alone if you are stuck with any other individual. Right now, I feel like I need a referee shirt because of how many times I have had to separate my boys from fighting with each other. Emotions are high and the littlest of comments can spark an argument or misunderstanding, and it is taking all that we can muster to keep things in check. 


So how do we stay in control when everything around us is completely out of control? It is important to understand what you can and cannot control. We cannot control anything that is external. We cannot control how world events are playing out. We cannot control how other people react to situations. We can, however, control ourselves and how we handle the various situations with which we are faced. It reminds me of the Serenity Prayer; “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” 


Our scripture from Titus tells us that God helps us with our self-control. Through his grace that he gives us through the salvation that he has offered to all people, God teaches us what is right and wrong. God shows us what it means to be good and righteous. He has literally spelled it out for us in his Word and has shown us how to live by giving us the example of the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. He supports us to say “no” to the things that are sinful and not of God, and he encourages us to say “yes” to the things that would please God.


Self-control is a choice. Admittedly, a choice that is difficult to actually maintain. One thing that I have found, is that if you focus on a choice that you CAN make and maintain, it is easier to control the rest of yourself in the process. For example, as things go a little crazy in the house at times, I often try to remove myself from the situation so that I do not react in a negative way. So I will go into a different room until my own emotions are settled before trying to address the situation that is going on. Instead of trying to figure out how I will respond in the moment, I focus on a completely different situation altogether. I have actually made myself a tool box of things to work on in order to help in these situations. In the tool box is a bunch of quotes and scriptures, a Bible, prayer beads, puzzle books, and things to juggle. These things help me focus on something else, something I can more easily control, in order to get me in the right frame of mind to stay in control while dealing with the other things. 


This same thing can be applied to more spiritual things. We can get bogged down in trying to establish a perfect understanding of all things, trying to establish a correct view on everything. We get so worked up about having the right answers, that when something challenges that view, we tend to lose control and lash out in various ways. When all the while, we have something else that we can focus on…the love of God. Why worry about how someone else views something differently, when we can better spend our time looking at how we all love God? Why focus on what separates us, which inevitably causes friction, when we can focus on what brings us together instead?


It is a choice. We can choose to focus on the negative, we can choose to let ourselves get swept away in the moment, we can choose to argue and disagree, or we can choose to follow God and let him lead the way. Next time that we feel ourselves losing control, maybe we should turn to God who is in control of all things, and allow him to change our focus, change our attitude, and change our purpose to fit his will.


Let us pray: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever and ever in the next. Amen.

Song: Eyes Fixed - Phil Wickham

Devotional Day 14 - 3/30/20

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


For what do you hope? Hope is one of those words that we use in several different ways. We can hope for something good to happen to us, we can hope that the outcome of something will be good, and we can hope for something to happen to cause a positive outcome. For instance, I’m hoping that that package arrives sooner than expected, I hope that my family gets home safely whenever they travel, and my only hope of surviving the next few weeks is by making sure I take plenty of time to do the things I need to in order to destress.


Hope is often one of those things that gives the understanding that something will happen in a positive manner, and it is not always a sure thing. We can hope for things to happen, but we are not always sure if they will. And when it looks like it will not happen, we say we “lose hope.” We give up, we give in, and we tend to accept that things will not happen as we would like. 


Sadly, in life, we have a lot of things that steal our hope. Things happen to change our outlook, people let us down, things don’t turn out the way that we want them to, and it can cause us to implode and shut down. Because things in this life are imperfect, they fail us constantly, and we can hope beyond hope, but it may still fail. 


But with God, he does not change. When we hope in God, we can rest assured that he will not fail us. It is a sure thing, and what we hope for, is that it will happen sooner than we expect. When we hope in his return, we know it will happen, we just don’t know when. When we hope that God will rescue us, it is for sure because he has made us that promise. God is our only hope for eternal life, but he has already paid the price for it. Our ticket is purchased. It is a for sure thing, and we can boast in that. Paul tells us quite frequently not to boast, but this is the one thing that he tells us in which we should boast. 


When we face trials, when we face problems in life, it brings about an even greater hope. Because it shows that whatever happens, God is still in control. God still loves us. God is still Lord of all things. And in the end, God will welcome us home. It can bring us peace, knowing the final outcome is a sure thing. That is our hope, and it is all a matter of time before it happens.


This period of isolation and separation will come to an end. We are not sure when it will happen, but it will. Take comfort in that fact. And even if it lasts months or even years, we know that in the end, we will all be reunited with each other in the presence of God once again. 


Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, all our hope is in you. We are glad that this life is only temporary, and our real home is with you. We look forward to the day of that eternal bliss. Bless us at this time. Help us to endure when things are difficult, and grant us the strength we need to live for you each day. Amen.

Song: All My Hope - Crowder

Devotional Day 15 - 3/31/20

Psalm 51:1-6

Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

    blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

    and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned

    and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

    and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth,

    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.


I must preface this by saying today and tomorrow’s devotional go hand in hand. I do not like to separate the ideas of mercy and grace. But today, I need to talk about mercy.


I must confess that I need these devotionals. I have found myself falling short in every topic that I have discussed. I am not the perfect pastor, husband, father, son, brother, friend, or person. I fail on a regular basis. I make mistakes, and I hurt people with my words and my actions. I do not claim to be an expert, I merely wish to share with you some of the things that I have found so that it may help you avoid some of the pitfalls of which I have found myself at the bottom. As Steve Brown says, “I’m just a beggar showing other beggars where I found bread.”


Mercy is not receiving what you deserve. We have all failed. We have all made mistakes. We have all sinned. And we all deserve any punishment that we receive. The Psalmist cries out for mercy from God as he writes, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And continues on in Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death.” We all deserve that punishment. That is the fact of the human sinful nature. But that is where God’s mercy steps in.


Again, mercy is NOT receiving what we do deserve. We deserve punishment, but God in his perfect mercy, offers us forgiveness instead (this is where the grace comes in for tomorrow). Not only did he NOT give us the eternal punishment that we deserve, but he took it upon himself. The cross that he died upon was meant for us…was meant for me. And he took it.


There have been so many songs written expressing the idea that Crowder does in the song that I chose for today. The song opens with the lyrics, “I'm the one who held the nail. It was cold between my fingertips. I’ve hidden in the garden. I’ve denied You with my very lips.” Other songs (like “How Deep The Father's Love For Us”) suggests that it was my sin that held Jesus to the cross. And even Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ included Mel’s own hands helping to nail Jesus to the Cross. But even so, God forgives us. 


I am not perfect. And it hurts to think of all the ways in which I fail on a daily basis. But God loves me anyway. He loves you. And he forgives us always.


Let us pray: Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Song: Forgiven - Crowder

Devotional Day 16 - 4/1/20

Ephesians 2:1-5

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.


Yesterday we talked about mercy, how we are in need of punishment. But God did not punish us, yet he took the punishment for us. Today is the second part of that, the grace of God. If mercy is not receiving what you do deserve, grace is receiving what you do not deserve. So we may not have the punishment that we deserve, but we do not deserve anything good. To paraphrase what Paul says it in today’s scripture, we were dead in our transgressions and our sins. Like everyone, we deserved God’s wrath and punishment. But because of his grace we were saved.


We do not deserve salvation. We are not good enough to earn it. No one is. Not even the most righteous or the most pious person will even come close to deserving God’s forgiveness and eternal life in the paradise of Heaven. So how do we get there? It is only because of the grace of God that we are saved. It is only because of his love for us.


Yesterday we used the scripture from Romans 6:23a, where Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death,” but he continues on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is a free gift that God offers to us. We need grace, because without it, we are doomed. But the thing is, grace is not about us. It is all about God. It is not about how good we are, but about how good God is. It is not about how much we love, but how much God loves us. It is not about what we have done, but about what God has done for us on the cross. It is only because of God that we are saved.


God doesn’t just give us a little grace. He pours it out on us. We are flooded with his grace, with his love, with his mercy. God provides for us and blesses us more than we could ever understand, more than we could ever use, more than we could ever need. Because God does not only wants to fill us with who he is, he wants to do so in a way that it would flood out into the lives of others. 


God’s grace is amazing. It covers every aspect of our lives. It covers every sin that we ever committed, even the ones for which we have not forgiven ourselves that we have hidden in the far recesses of our hearts. That is the beauty of God’s grace. We don’t deserve it, but God loves us anyway.


Let us pray: God, you love us even when we sin. You love us despite our failures. Help us to love in the same way that you love, giving grace to those around us. Help us to accept your forgiveness for ourselves, and to offer the same unconditional forgiveness to others. Amen.

Song: Grace Flows Down - Christy Nockles

Devotional 17 - 4/2/20

Philippians 2:1-4

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.


I love the example of Paul. I saw a meme the other day that said “Thinking about Paul today. He spent much of his ministry “quarantined” in prison or house arrest and yet his correspondence with sisters and brothers in Christ yielded nearly half of the New Testament. The Gospel is never bound.” Paul’s ministry gives us so much direction and instruction, yet he faced horrific conditions, things that we could ever imagine.


This was not originally what I wanted to write about today, but I felt that I needed to say something. Whenever I think about my position as a pastor, I feel that the best description is that of being a shepherd. A shepherd’s responsibility is to care for the sheep that are in his or her charge. Taking care of the people in the church can come in a variety of ways. Maybe it is visiting while someone is shut-in or sick. Maybe it is leading a Bible study or providing spiritual guidance. Maybe it is helping people as they grieve the loss of a loved one. A shepherd leads, and where they go, others follow. It is a responsibility that I take seriously, and it keeps me up at night when I question my decisions about this responsibility.


Lately I have been seeing in the news pastors who are being arrested for holding church services while we are in the midst of this epidemic. I completely understand the need for connectivity at this time, where it is important that we rely on one another, and support each other during a time when we need it the most. However, I think one of the biggest responsibility of all shepherds is the health and safety of those that we lead. If what I am going to do will put someone else in direct jeopardy, I should not do it. That would be irresponsible and dangerous. Not to mention the fact that I would not be able to live with my conscience if my direct actions or decisions caused someone to become ill, or quite possibly die. 


I have long held to the notion that if people want to chance coming to church, be it because of snow or ice or whatever, I should be available to accommodate those wishes. But with things going on, it has made me rethink a lot of those types of decisions. I rarely close for inclement weather, but this year I closed twice for snow and ice. I know how stubborn people can be, and I knew that if I held church on those days, someone could have gotten hurt. I do not want my choices to affect the health and safety of the people I love.


I cannot speak to why other pastors make the decisions that they make (especially the ones that make the news in a negative way). I know as Christians we have been thought that just because the world says that it is ok, doesn’t make it right. But I think in this case it does. Practicing social distancing is not an evil. Sure, it is not what we all want to be doing. Yes, people are suffering and struggling at this time. But it does not mean that we can throw caution to the wind and do whatever we want because churches seem to be “exempt” at this time. (And frankly if pastors keep this up - defying restrictions - I believe churches will lose that exemption.) It means that we need to find new ways to meet the needs of the people, not just the congregation, but the entire community. I have been trying to find new ways in which I can minister in my isolation, which is why I have been writing these devotionals and continuing with my sermons. And it may not be what all people want or need, but it is what I think is the best solution where “right decisions” are hard to come by. 


This scripture from Philippians is very important to me. It is something against which I constantly measure my decisions. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” I do not want to have church to make it about me. I do not want to provide these devotions and my sermons to make myself look better. I want to do what I can to encourage and support people in a time where it is more than necessary. And no, I don’t like it. I do not like the situation that we are in. In fact, come July 1, I will be in a new position at a new church, and I may not be able to see my current church family again before that happens. And that pains me to know that I may not be able to hug the people that I have loved for over 10 years one last time before I leave. But that would be irresponsible and dangerous. I need to set myself aside, and consider what is better for the people that I lead. So I will do all I can do to support my people at this time. I will write and I will encourage. I will make phone calls, texts and emails. I will support my people the best that I can. And I will love. That is what I will do. I apologize if that is not enough, but that is all I can do at this time.


I pray that you find comfort knowing that you are not alone in this. There are so many people right now facing what you are facing. There are people praying for you. (I know that I am praying for you right now.) There are people that love you. God is with you. He has not forsaken you. He is the good shepherd and he is leading us, even when we don’t always see it. All we need to do is follow his voice and he will lead us around the troubles that are our in our path. 


Let us pray: Lord, as you guide us, let us hear your voice. Let us support and encourage one another. But let us also set our own egos aside to understand that what we may want, may not be what is best. Help us to put you first in our lives. Amen.


Song: Shepherd - Bethel Music

Devotional Day 18 - 4/3/20

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


In previous devotionals we have talked about forgiveness, so today I wanted to touch on it a little more. Have you ever been forgiven? I know we have all done things wrong. We have made mistakes, we have purposefully acted in ways that are not acceptable, we have failed to love the way that we are supposed to love. And when we do these wrong things, and we are truly sorry for what we do, we often seek out forgiveness. 


But what is forgiveness? I found a definition that suggests that forgiveness can be seen as “giving up my right to hurt you, for hurting me.” (allaboutgod. com). I thought that this was a rather profound idea. When we forgive someone, we wipe the slate clean. And in doing so, we give up our right to hold it against them in the future. We forgive the debts that have accrued, which is the example we see in the parable in the scripture for today. A servant is called to settle the debts that he had with his king. He owed 10,000 bags of gold, but could not repay it. And so, the king ordered that all that the servant had, including himself and his family, be sold to pay off the debt. Yet the servant cried out for mercy and the king took pity on him and forgave him the debt. He wiped the slate clean and the servant did not have to pay back a penny of what he owed. 


This would be like our sin against God. When we do something wrong, when we sin, even if it is against someone else, it is also against God. All of those things add up, creating a huge debt that we owe that we can never pay off. But yet, God offers us forgiveness. That should be a huge weight off of our shoulders, knowing that that is not hanging over our heads. Think about it. How many times have you had a large bill that you needed to pay? You may have needed to pay it off in increments, taking it one payment at a time. How did you feel once you finally paid it off? It is a relief to know that the money that we have struggled to pull together to put towards this bill is now freed up to be used for some of the other things that we need to use it for. It takes the stress off worrying about it off of our shoulders and allows us to focus on other things. And I am sure that is how the servant in our parable felt.


But what did he do in return? He went out and found the first person that owed him money and demanded full payment immediately. And when that servant could not pay, the first servant ordered that the man be thrown into prison until he could pay back the debt. Do we ever do that? How many times do we hold a grudge against someone for some slight that they have made against us? Sure, they may have done something that is very hurtful and painful to us, but have we forgiven them for it? When people hurt us, our first reaction is to protect ourselves, and often times that involves lashing out to push the hurt away. But is that what God wants for us?


When we sin against God, he does not push away. In fact he opens his arms and welcomes us back time and time again. We sin daily, we mess up daily, and he forgives us constantly. There is nothing that we can do to push God away so far that he will not welcome us back in his forgiveness. (Some argue that the only exception would be denying God and his forgiveness altogether.)


But when God forgives us, he expects us to do the same for others. Because regardless of whatever “debts” people have towards us, our “debt” to God is so much bigger. Our forgiveness of others should not be one and done. It should be always and constant. Peter stresses this when he asks, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” He probably thought he was doing the right thing, asking if I should forgive my brother seven times for the same sin. Jesus takes it a step further, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” We cannot keep track of people’s wrongs against us, because that is not true forgiveness.


God loves you. And he wants you to seek after him, even when we sin against him. He has forgiven us, and those sins do not exist any more. God does not want us to dwell on our mistakes. He wants us to learn from them and move on, because he has. Accept God’s forgiveness. Forgive yourself. And forgive those who wrong you.


Let us pray: God of love, have mercy on us. Pour out your grace upon us. Forgive us for our sins and help us to forgive ourselves. May our lives be focused on loving and pleasing you, and loving our neighbor. May we forgive others, and may those whom we wrong forgive us as well. Amen.

Song: You Are My King - Newsong

Devotional Day 19 - 4/4/20

Genesis 15:12-21

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”


Today is a devotional that is a story and topic that I love. I picked just a portion of scripture to explain what I want to emphasize, but I would encourage you to go back and read more parts of Abraham’s story, starting in Genesis 11.


I love this story of God and Abram (from here on out I will call him Abraham). Abraham was a righteous man, and God chose him to be the father of God’s people. But God didn’t start with Abraham, he actually called his father. “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there (Genesis 11:31).” God was working in the life of Abraham before he was even called. God put him in a position to continue on and follow the path that God had laid out before him.


But I think the most interesting thing out of all of this, is where God physically made the covenant with Abraham. In biblical days, when a contract was “signed,” the pieces of the sacrifices were placed on the ground. The two parties involved would walk between them, clasp hands in the middle, and return to where they began, all the while pointing at the pieces. This was to signify the notion, “that if I break my part of the contract, may I be like these sacrifices.” With this, the contract was sealed between both parties. 


Yet we see with this example between God and Abraham, Abraham slept through the whole thing. God made a contract (covenant, promise) with Abraham to make him a great nation, to give him the land of Israel, and to make the entire world blessed because of him. But God knew that Abraham would never be able to hold up his end of the bargain. Regardless of how righteous Abraham was, he was still sinful and imperfect. So God did not make the contract with Abraham something that Abraham could break. He made it with himself. As Abraham slept, God appeared as a smoking firepot, and a blazing torch (two parties) to walk through the pieces on the ground. God made the promise with himself to bless Abraham.


This is how it is with God. His promises are not contingent on us, because if they were, God would never have to hold up his end of the bargain because we would have broken the contract as soon as it was established. He promises so many things for us. He promises his provision, his protection, his love, and his forgiveness (to name a few), and he makes those promises without us. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. And we can take it to the bank that he will uphold his side of the contract, because he made the promise with himself. And to me, it is a wonderful realization of God’s love for us, that he loves us despite how sinful we are.


Take comfort knowing that God loves us. Take comfort knowing that God will always provide and protect. Take comfort knowing that God is always with us and will never leave us. All because he has promised.


Let us pray: God of promise, you bless us in all ways. May our lives reflect your presence and love. May we do all things out of thankfulness for what you have done for us. May we set ourselves aside so that we can carry out your will in this world. We love you. Amen.

Song: Standing on the Promises (Medley) - Selah

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