Devotional Thoughts

Here is where our pastors and leaders share their hearts, and words of encouragement.  You can subscribe to these posts and receive them in your inbox when a new post is published.

 

God at Work Through Faith

We can very easily fall into a ‘performance trap’ in our lives. Our work certainly has value, but at times this value is misplaced or appraised too highly. A false belief within us says “I must meet or exceed certain expectations in order to have worth.” God’s Word has many expectations though doesn’t it? Many believe that the Bible is just a book of “do’s and don’ts.”

Paul writes;God at Work

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Rom 3:27-28)

James questions;

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? …faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-15, 17)

At surface level these two men seem to almost have conflicting viewpoints. Which inspired author is right? Which one is wrong? Both are right! This could be called divine tension. I want to call your attention to the following definition of tension:

A balanced relation between strongly opposing elements: “the continuing, and essential, tension between two of the three branches of government, judicial and legislative” (Haynes Johnson).  The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.

Paul and James are both right because of their differences! Paul speaks of the same faith, but different works than what James speaks of.
  • Different laws. Paul spoke concerning the Mosaic Law while James, the law of liberty. (Compare Romans 3:20 with James 2:12)
  • Different motivation. Paul warned that observing God’s law would not make one right with God in and of itself. He also makes the point that scripture has pointed this out all along. James encourages good deeds or works that are a byproduct of a faith that is genuine and alive. The motivation then would be helping others, not helping you (a means of justification). (Compare Romans 3:21 with James 2:15-17)
  • Different source of justification. Paul urges that we are made right with God (justified) when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. On this faith alone are we justified, not by anything we can do to earn it.  James speaks of works as a justification of our faith. To put it another way, what we do proves our faith, flowing out from it. (Compare Romans 3:22-26 with James 2:18)

 

The Bible speaks volumes about our actions as well as our work. Hard work is encouraged, while laziness is spoken of as sin. However, we can abuse how we perform or produce. God places our worth not in what we can accomplish but rather what Jesus Christ accomplished in our place. Our identity then is in Christ not what occupation or special skill set that we possess. He is at work through our faith!

  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Col 3:23-24)

 



Worship in Uncertainty

worship
Uncertainty is fertile ground. I am convinced of that.
What do I mean? When we are unsure of tomorrow… (Will I be able to make ends meet? What will the test results show? Will I get the job I interviewed for? Will I be able to face my fear and speak before them? Will I be healed? Etc.) …we can be certain that God is very sure of what our tomorrow will bring. In the land of uncertainty God is at work; sewing, cultivating, and producing a harvest of fruit in our lives. We might say that uncertainty can be used by God as a type of plowing or tilling. Often our ground is fallow, hard, and full of thorns.

 

I find myself in such a place of not knowing and waiting, seeking God; desiring His face perhaps more than even the answers I don’t know. Or at least that is what I want my desires to be centered on. Right now, personally, it is far easier to worship than it is to storm the throne room with prayer and supplication. So, worshiping my Creator is what I shall do! If you are in a similar place right now, I invite you to join me.

 

There is a song that keeps pouring over me, over and over again: “Come Away” by Jesus Culture. Here are the lyrics. I pray they wash over you too! He has a plan for you.

“Come Away”

Come away with me, Come away with me

It’s never too late, it’s not too late

It’s not too late for you

I have a plan for you

I have a plan for you

It’s gonna be wild

It’s gonna be great

It’s gonna be full of me

Open up your heart and let me in



It’s Going Down!

Confrontation is not something most of us relish. Some of us avoid it like the plague in fact. We’d rather shun someone all the while harbor offense in our heart, or act like nothing happened at all instead of confronting someone and exposing what we feel they did wrong. It really goes back to being so concerned with what people think of us. When should confrontation be a part of our duty as a friend? As a parent or spouse? As a fellow human being? As a Christian?

confrontationPaul confronted one of the pillars of the early church; one might even argue THE pillar, Peter, in Galatians 2:11-21. Let me set the stage. Peter used to eat with Gentiles, even lived as if he too were a Gentile rather than a Jew. When James came to town along with some other men who were Jews, Peter began to distance himself from the Gentiles in a way that was very obvious. He did so because he was afraid of what those men would think of him. This didn’t stop with just Peter’s bigotry; the other Jews there joined him. Paul called this hypocrisy!

When we see error, we are faced with a dilemma. Do we confront, look the other way, or do we join in? Confronting a wrong means exposing yourself to possible harm (emotionally or even physically). What would Paul do? It says Paul “opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” He gives us several reasons, among them were : Peter’s actions were hypocrisy and “they were not in line with the truth of the gospel.” He said this in front of them all. We find some helpful traits of effective confrontation from this story that we should implement as well when we are faced with wrong doing (to us or others):

  • Oppose them to their face. Go to that individual and share with them what they did (or did not do), what they said, or what act they committed. Do not talk about them behind their back to others, even for their own opinion on the matter. Go directly to the source.
  • Make sure they were clearly in the wrong. Paul listed why he knew Peter was wrong. We should establish that before confronting someone. Asking clarifying questions of the individual is the best way of obtaining information, finding their perspective in the issue, and disarming defensiveness.
  • Explain why you feel it is wrong. Paul told Peter not just what he did, but why it was wrong and how it affected others. This caused Peter to grow.
  • Public confrontation when needed. Most of the time we should confront someone privately. However, in this instance Peter was addressed by Paul in public. He did so because multiple people were influenced by Peter. It was a public wrong/sin/offense so it was confronted in a public manner.

We all miss the mark sometimes (the definition of sin, by the way). Correction is vital to all of us. Let us not be afraid to confront wrongs in a loving, Spirit-led way with the goal of reconciliation and being in line with the truth of the gospel! Let us receive correction with humility and an open mind and tender heart before God.



Walking Out Freedom

walking-fb
I had a very humbling experience on Sunday.  During the time of worship while I sang adoration to my God; I was also meditating on the teaching I was about to get on stage to give, as I usually do. The teaching centered on Galatians 1:10 which says,

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Just then, in the midst of my thoughts, the Holy Spirit brought to my remembrance a time when I corrected someone because I thought they were being critical; but honestly, it was mainly because I was concerned with what others would think when they read what this individual wrote. I immediately knew I needed to ask them for forgiveness. Whether they needed it or not, I needed it. I had to do it to be obedient; I also knew that this was a step I must take to continue to obtain the freedom I so desire from being a people-pleaser. As soon as I got home I wrote an email to this individual asking for their forgiveness and explaining the best that I could my error in being so concerned with what people might think. I also must point out that I needed to do this regardless of whether the other person was wrong or not in anything they may have done. I had to do as much as depends on me.  I hit send. I felt relieved and accomplished.

Later, I found myself checking my inbox to see if they replied. “I wonder how they took it,” I thought. In that moment I realized part of my motivation for wanting to see a reply was flawed.  Sure, I wanted to find out if they forgave me. But ultimately I think I wanted to be liked. That is certainly humbling to admit. I must be okay with possibly never receiving a response because in the end, I did what I felt convicted to do. It’s out of my hands and my thoughts do not need to be imprisoned. Part of freedom is walking it out. The Lord breaks off the shackles, but we must continue to refuse to put them back on again.

I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments. (Psalm 119:45 NLT)



Hour of Power

In Markhourglass 14:32-42, Jesus gives eight of His disciples instruction to sit “here” while He prays at a place called Gethsemane. He takes Peter, James, and John further in, tells them he is very sorrowful and gives instruction for them to pray and stay awake. Jesus then goes a “stone’s throw away,” (Luke’s Gospel says) falls to the ground and prays. Jesus then checks back with them three different times and each time they are asleep! Jesus asked them “Are you asleep? Could you not watch with me for one hour?” “Hour” is used not only in this question (vs. 37) but also in vs. 35, when Jesus was petitioning the Father that the “hour” might pass from Him and then again in vs. 41, when He sees Judas approaching and says that the “hour” is at hand. “Hour” here does not mean 60 min. but rather an appointed time; twice spoken of as appointed by the Father (concerning Jesus) and once by Jesus (appointing the disciples to pray).

It is easy to just view the disciples as a bunch of colossal goofs that are insensitive and selfish, sleeping while their Master is agony and travailing in prayer. But Luke 22:45 gives us a different view of what is motivating the disciples: “He found them exhausted from sorrow.” Jesus knew their condition! He knew that they just ate the Passover Supper that it was late at night, and they were exhausted and sorrowful as well. Sleepiness is even a symptom of grief. BUT, he still appointed them to prayer for that “hour.” Jesus told them to pray so that they would not enter into temptation. He knew what was ahead for Himself, but also fully well what was ahead for them “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (earlier in vs. 27). Christ Jesus had such deep concern for them that he checked on them three times.

It says in 2 Samuel 11 that “In the spring when kings go to war” that David stayed home and then was tempted with Bathsheba and fell. It would seem that David had an appointment that he did not keep and temptation was at the doorstep. Likewise, the disciples had an appointed time to pray that they were sleeping through.

I don’t believe that Jesus’ instruction to His disciples to watch and pray was merely telling them the importance of personal prayer or that they needed the discipline of prayer in their lives. I believe that Jesus was calling them to a specific “hour” or span of time in which was to be spent in prayer. I firmly believe that we as a church are being called to an “hour” of prayer. I believe that this is a prophetic call. Are you sleeping spiritually? Please pray with me.



So easy even a caveman can do it!

cavemanAll of the auto insurance company’s commercials boast that they will now give you the competing company’s rates as well as their own, even if theirs isn’t the lowest. How very nice of them! This is a novel plan in a very competition driven culture of doing business. Make no mistake though; they have a product or service to sell.

 

The world’s economy has the following philosophies:

  • I must try to be the person (or company) that someone looks to exclusively for <insert service or product>.
  • I must not allow others to learn too much from me, because I will make myself (or company) obsolete, not needed, or desired as much.
  • I must not give away freely <insert service or product> that I could benefit or profit from.
  • If I am the “only game in town” that will raise the demand for my supply, thus raising the price and/or profit for me.

How the world does business has greatly influenced our mindset unfortunately when it comes to serving, ministry, and leadership. If I protect what I have and do not share it so that others may do what I do; I increase my worth to those around me. Ultimately we don’t give freely, graciously, and extravagantly to others because we don’t want them to pass us up!

God’s economy is completely different. God so loved the world that He freely gave His son; John the Baptist pointed to Jesus instead of receiving the attention (or profit) for himself; Elijah gave a double portion of his anointing to Elisha. Jesus sent out his twelve disciples/apostles/leaders with the following instructions:

“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:5-8)

If we only want to make our name (or service that we offer) great, then we should keep our flawed business world’s economy. If we want to make Jesus Christ’s name great and multiply ourselves and what we do for our church and God’s kingdom then we should freely give and impart what we have to others. We must duplicate ourselves to be a true success. Make yourself expendable!



Where did my intense and passionate feeling go?

ferventAll of us have experienced the white hot heat of a vibrant and intimate relationship with God before. You know, when you have a hunger for His Word; prayer seems effortless; worship songs are playing in your head and you can’t wait to talk about Him. But then something happens; it becomes different, not as enjoyable, more of a chore, just not the same! We are left scratching our heads as to why things have changed, particularly when it happens gradually. Romans 12:11 admonishes us:

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”

How does one keep their spiritual fervor? When life seems to be beating you down even on a good day, how do we not lack zeal?! In the context of his total thoughts, the Apostle Paul surrounds vs. 11 above with how we do it.  A summary of Romans 12:9-21:

  • Love must be sincere. God desires authenticity in our relationship with Him and others
  • Hate what is evil. We must make sure we remove all known sin in our life. It can’t have a hold on us, if we want a hold on God!
  • Cling to what is good. That’s “G.I. Joe Kung-Fu death grip” kind of clinging.
  • Be devoted to one another. Be a man or woman of commitment. Stick with your commitments.
  • Honor one another above yourself. Make others more important. It’s not all about us! If you have a struggle, pray for someone else going through the same thing.
  • Be joyful in hope. Happiness comes from happenings. Joy however comes from the Holy Spirit. Fan that joy into flame.
  • Patient in affliction. “This too shall pass” and the Lord matures us through these trials.
  • Faithful in prayer. Pray even when you aren’t feeling it. He will meet you where you are. Listen as well as speak.
  • Care for those in need. This is a perspective gainer.
  • Practice hospitality. Receive people in your life, often God will speak through them.
  • Bless those who persecute you. You are in the same company as Christ: He was persecuted and chose to only bless them in return. Do likewise.
  • Rejoice and mourn with others. Enter into their life, share life, and give life.
  • As much as depends of you, live at peace with everyone. You do what God would have you do. Leave the other person’s response in God’s hands.
  • Do not be overcome with evil. Jesus freed us from the power of sin, why should we be slaves to it again?
If we live like that, then we will…
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”


Immoveable!

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

FrustrationI received a phone call today from one of the leaders in our church. She has spent countless hours counseling, comforting, confronting, and even cajoling someone in whom she has actively discipled to live for Christ Jesus and not her former way of life. During this time there have been victories and defeat as she mentored and loved her. Now, this individual has regressed. The frustration and sadness could be heard in this leader’s voice as she shared with me on the phone. Sound familiar to you? As leaders and disciple makers we too have experienced heartbreak. I heard someone once say, “Ministry would be great if not for the people!” We must remember that Jesus died for those people, in whom we are included.

Paul encourages us with his words to the Corinthian church. We are reminded that we must be strong and immoveable. Nothing should be allowed to knock us off course. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength! Our Lord does not want us to be miserable or grudgingly serve him; He wants our work to be full of enthusiasm and enjoyment—even when we experience setbacks. And finally, we are reminded that nothing we ever do for the Lord is useless! He redeems our time and our effort.



Taking Care of Mom

 

mom coffeeJohn 19:25-27
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

It has often been said that when Jesus went to the cross He was already thinking of you and me. He knew those in whom He would ransom by taking our place in death. I’m convinced we were certainly in His thoughts and the purpose of His motivation.  John’s gospel account gives us a unique detail from Christ’s crucifixion. Before Jesus said “It is finished.” (19:30) we see something else that He was very mindful of—His own mother! At this moment, on the cross, if anyone had ever had a valid excuse of being too busy to care for His mother surely Jesus would have. Instead, even in the midst of physical and spiritual agony Jesus had loving concern for His mom and her welfare. How about you and I? Do we allow ‘life’ and ‘things’ to prevent us from making sure our mom is well taken care of? How is your relationship with mom?



Is God asking you to stay?

ballerina-project

“Movement through a position is far easier than sustaining a position.” The picture – a suspension of a single moment – makes it look easy. And, in truth, the greatest dancers make it look easy in life. But it isn’t easy.

Sustaining a position takes self-control, dedication and gumption to fight.

Does God have you someplace and is asking you to stay? To balance? To be patient on His timing? Staying in one place for humans who are in a state of constant motion, can be the hardest thing we do in obedience to God. But the resulting beauty is worth it. His Will is worth it!
 
-Koren Obispo
 (Kid Master/Children’s Pastor)