Telling Your Story ~ Week 5 ~ Daily Devotional by Rev. Dr. Michelle Chaney

Day 1                                                  The Promise                                                  Acts 2:14a, 39

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” Verse 14a, NIV

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Verse 39, NIV

It is impossible to talk about the promise of God and our relationship with God without connecting it to our own relationship with the parents or guardians in our own lives or those whom we parent or guard. Regardless of the structure of the relationship, adult/child relationships are fraught with promises. Maybe we didn’t pinky swear or cross our hearts and hope to die, maybe we didn’t spit into our hands and shake on it, or give a boy scouts hand sign, but promises are made all the time. And the truth is, some promises we keep, some we do not, some we make knowing we can never fulfill, others we spend our entire lives trying to fill. Some promises require great sacrifice, some sacrifices make it too hard to keep the promise.

But regardless of the outcome of the promise made, I would like to believe that every promise is made not out of obligation or expectation, but simply out of love. For it is the same love that God has for you and me and that flows from us to others. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:39, NRSV) What was that promise? This week we will look at those promises as Peter begins his apostolic ministry preaching the good news of a Resurrected Christ. What we will discover is that all these promises are made possible by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are promises that have never been broken and are still being fulfilled.

Reflection: What promise has God made to you? What promise have you made to others? What can you do this week to be as true to your promise as God has been to God’s promise?

Prayer: Dear Lord, I thank you for keeping your promise of life abundant in Christ and life eternal with Christ. Help me to be as faithful to you and others in keeping my promise to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in the world today. Amen.

Day 2                                      The Promise of the Holy Spirit                               Acts 2:14-21

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” NIV

“Didn’t I tell you that would happen?” Those familiar words in the voice of my grandmother, still echo in my ear. Even though she died when I was 9 years old, her spirit still speaks to me when I need to hear her, and I can see her standing in front of me, hand on hip, finger pointing.

Peter stands before the crowd and reminds them that what they are experiencing is exactly what Jesus said would happen. He promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come as Jesus spent his last hours with them.[1] And the promise was kept when he met with them in the upper room as they began their ministry as apostles.[2] Peter also reminds them that Jesus said that while John baptized with water, they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.[3] And now he must remind them that the promise of the Holy Spirit was part of God’s plan all along in recounting Joel’s prophesy.[4]

And now we have an Advocate, a Friend, a Confidant, a Wise Sage, a Guide to remind us who we are and whose we are, in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Think about a time when the Holy Spirit was clearly present with you as an Advocate, a Friend, a Confidant, a Wise Sage, or a Guide. What were the circumstances? How was it resolved? Could you have come to that resolution on your own? Why or why not?

Prayer: Dear Lord, Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit. As we grow as your disciples, our desire is to increase in our reliance on your Spirit to direct our lives as we share our God stories and reach out to those who still do not know you. Amen.

Day 3                                      The Promise of Salvation                                         Acts 2: 40-47

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” NIV

This past Christmas Eve my husband and I were asked to serve communion at a noon day service designed to accompany a Christmas luncheon for the homeless that live in and around the downtown area. Because a large crowd was expected, the church chose to use communion wafers rather than serving baked bread. As we were serving, an older gentleman took the wafer from me, looked at it, smelled it, flicked it with his other hand, shook his head and handed the wafer back to me and walked off. Clearly something that made the server and me both chuckle during the car ride home. This encounter got me thinking about John Wesley’s Sermon 101: The Duty of Constant Communion, where Wesley saw Communion not as an obligation but as an opportunity to “remember” the sacrifice made by Jesus so that we might receive the promise of salvation. In fact, it is our unworthiness and need for salvation that should draw us to the Lord’s table. We all need to be reminded that the Lord’s table is not for the perfect, but for those who accept the promise.

Reflection: Reflect on the service of communion where you worship. Is it truly inviting? To you? To others? What would make it even more inviting?

Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful that we are welcome at your table. Help us to make more room, not just at your table, but in our hearts, for those who need to know the promise of salvation. Empower us to not only share our God stories, but to also break bread together in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Day 4                                      The Promise of Healing and Health                       Acts 3: 1-10

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God  they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” NIV

Perhaps you have heard the old saying from the Spanish philosopher Maimonides, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I am not much for fishing, but I have come to appreciate that particular saying in light of working with people who are in need. Sometimes they are so in need that they no longer know what they really need. I believe it is for us as disciples of Jesus Christ to be able to discern the real need, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and find a way to address that need.

We encounter Peter and John faced with the same need for discernment. They encounter a man who wanted alms, Peter offered healing so he could support himself. We see this same story at the Pool by the Sheep Gate when Jesus asks the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be made well?”[5] The man wanted to be out in the pool, Jesus wanted to heal the man so he would not have to depend on others again. In both instances, focusing on the long term and not the moment creates an opportunity to point to Jesus Christ and his power to heal. Addressing the real need creates real opportunity for relationship with Jesus Christ, and the promise of healing.

Reflection: Are there situations in your life where you want Jesus to apply a “quick fix,” but Jesus is trying to get you to accept the promise of healing? What do you need to do differently to accept the promise?

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to seek you for the healing that only you can provide. I accept your promise of healing and pray for courage and strength to move into your promise every day. Amen.

Day 5                                      The Promise of Repentance                                                 Acts 3:17-20

“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” NIV

Many years ago, my brother and I were horsing around in our New York apartment. We were home from school, and clearly we were getting bored. My brother got the bright idea to dress up and pretend to be a sword fighter. He put on a costume that looked more like a pirate than a sword fighter, whatever that is, and he went into the kitchen and came back with my mother’s longest and sharpest knife, reserved for cutting holiday meats. As I sat on the sofa he jumped from chair to sofa to loveseat all the while swinging that knife. Well, one swing too many and my brother managed to cut the lampshade and the window shade behind it in half. Clear that this could not end well, my brother promised me five dollars if I said I stumbled and fell into the table the lamp sat on and caused it to fall over and rip the lampshade, taking the window shade with it. I am guessing you know how this went down…fast forward many hours and my mother is reciting all the chores my brother would have to do over the next two weeks to make up for what he had done. And when she said to him, “You could have cut your sister’s head off!” he just looked at me and said, “But I didn’t!”

Repentance is no small matter for us as children of God. In this text, Peter reminds his “friends” that repentance is important not only to have your “sins wiped out” but also that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”[6] Peter spoke boldly to those who had a hand in Jesus’ death in the hopes that they would repent. Sometimes we need to speak boldly to our own sin and seek to repent; seek to really repent.

Reflection: We all have sins for which we need forgiveness and repentance. Recall a time when repentance was most difficult for you. How did you overcome it?

Prayer: Dear Lord, sin has separated me from you, and repentance has blocked the road to my return. Help me to be ever aware of my sin, and challenge me to live a life of not only forgiveness, but also repentance. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.

Day 6                                      The Promise of Rejection                                        Acts 4:8-13

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.’ Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” NIV

The thought of rejection is crippling. The same is true following through with an act that could lead to rejection. That is why some Christians struggle with sharing the story of Jesus Christ with others. Their first thought is, “What if they do not want to listen? What if they do not like what I say?” Jesus was no stranger to rejection. Rejection is the reason Jesus was killed in the first place. But while our call is to be ‘like’ Christ, there are many things Christ did on which we would rather take a pass. Part of our human development is learning to accept and cope with rejection. It starts when we do not get picked to be on a team for a game of softball, and goes all the way to not getting elected to be President of the United States. Peter accepted rejection, for it confirmed to him that he was walking in Jesus’ path.

Reflection: With such a wonderful role model in Jesus, we should know how to deal with rejection, and the answer to dealing with rejection is not avoidance. We, too, must learn to face the rejection head on, knowing we cannot take it personally. For, what others reject is not our story of how much Jesus loves us. They reject the thought that Jesus could love them just as much!

Prayer: Jesus, you are not only our savior, but you are also our model and our mentor. Help us to tap into the Holy Ghost’s boldness just as your first apostles did, and empower us to be more willing to accept rejection in the hopes that someone will be saved. Amen.

Day 7                                      The Promise of the Lord’s Coming                         2 Peter 3:9

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” NIV

When I was in my twenties, I thought I had all the time in the world. Now that I am in my fifties, I still think I have all the time in the world, I just want to be way more productive with my time! The truth is, the only one who has all the time in the world is God. And because Jesus does not want any of us to spend eternity dead in sin and not alive with Him, Jesus remains patient, planning his triumphant return to earth, but never wanting to jump the gun. Instead being patient, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” That kind of repentance is challenging to imagine even on our best days.

Reflection: What promises have you made to God? How are you living out those promises as a believer in Jesus Christ and as a disciple for the transformation of the world?

Prayer: Jesus you are the manifestation of God’s promise to us. We thank you that you became flesh and dwelt among us. Help us live transformed lives as we seek to transform lives for you. Empower us to have a holy boldness in sharing our God stories so that others might come to know your saving grace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

[1] John 14: 15-17, NIV.

[2] John 20:19-23, NIV.

[3] Acts 1:4-5, NIV.

[4] Acts 2:17-21, NIV.

[5] John 5:6, NIV.

[6] Acts 3:19-20, NIV.

Daily Devotional ~ Telling Your Story ~ Week 4 ~ Jesus Presence and Compassion

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Jesus Presence and Compassion:

Day 1                         The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith                      Mark 7:24-30

“From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’” But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” NRSV

When most of us hear a prayer request for healing, our minds automatically go to physical healing such as healing of cancer, surgery, broken bones, and so on. We tend to overlook healings that are needed in other areas of people’s journeys. The Syrophoenician woman’s daughter had a demon. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus had the ability to cast out demons, and that he did so frequently. This mother’s persistence showed her faith and Jesus healed her daughter because of the mother’s determined faith.

How strong is your faith? When you do not perceive your prayers being answered in what you consider to be a timely manner, does your faith begin to dwindle or does it stay strong in knowing and believing that God will answer and that God’s answer will be for God’s glory?

The way our prayers are answered is God’s story. Our response to God’s answers is our story, and the two create the story of love and grace between a parent and a child.

Reflection: What is your response when God seemingly does not answer your prayers? What is your response when the answer is positive and a great miracle has occurred? Do you share those stories with others?

Prayer: Loving God, forgive me for doubting your power and presence in my time of need. Help me realize that I may not understand your answers to my prayers, but to face those answers with courage and the knowledge of your love for me. Amen.

Day 2                                      Let the Redeemed Tell their Story             Psalm 107:1-3

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.”
NIV

My friend Angel gave permission to use her story. She says, “God is so awesome. Yep. Thirteen years ago I had brain surgery for a pretty serious looking brain tumor. Following that surgery in April of 2002, we were told the tumor was successfully excised. Just two short days later, I was released from the hospital and found out a week later that though it was considered a grade 2 (out of 4) tumor, pre-surgical MRI scans showed it was a more aggressive tumor. I then went through treatments of chemo and radiation. After almost two full years of treatment, and over 50 follow-up MRI scans to check for recurrence, and many, many, prayers later, I am still tumor free! God is good! I pray that how I live my life, now, shows God how amazingly grateful I am for this blessing.”

We never know from day to day what will happen in our lives that will become a part of our greater story. My friend Angel did not dream that she would have a brain tumor diagnosis, and go through brain surgery, radiation, and chemo. When I asked her about using her story in this devotion she did not hesitate, but she wanted to make sure that it is understood that her story should be used and told to bring God praise. Angel not only gives God praise and glory for her healing, but also for bringing her beloved husband Jim safely home through multiple deployments during his military career.

Reflection: Do you let others know what a wonderful God you serve and how you have been healed or touched by God? Sometimes we think that those parts of our story aren’t important because they are specific to our lives. Who wants to hear about my life? Sometimes we might think that we are boring people with our stories, however, if we are being faithful, observant, and most importantly listening to God, we will find ourselves at the right time, right place, and right audience to tell the part of our healing story that God wants to be known, and all the glory will go to God.

Prayer: Give me the wisdom to know what part of and when to humbly share our story, Lord. Give me the strength and courage to tell others that without your healing and strength, I would not even have a story. Amen.

Day 3                          Peace in the Promises of Jesus                                John 16:33

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” NRSV

There are times when we do not go to God with our pain or hurt because we do not think that our hurt or infirmity is important enough to bring before our creator. Sometimes we feel that if our illness is not the size of a mountain then God will not have time for it. We unwisely choose to try to handle the small things on our own, which often leads the small things to grow into large things. Maybe we feel as though the pain or hurt we are having is deserved because we have either failed those we love, or we feel we have failed ourselves, or we might even feel we have failed God. My friends, I am so thankful that God’s love for me is not based on what I deserve but on God’s freely given grace. We do not always understand that there is nothing too small or too big to take to our Lord in prayer. Please know that God is aware of our issue/s before we speak it, regardless of magnitude. God’s desire for us is that we find our peace in Jesus’ promises to us, as seen in today’s Scripture. The only way we will truly find rest or peace is when we look toward Jesus as the healer. We will find pain and hurt in this world, but we need to always remember that our Lord conquered the world, and the victory of Jesus is the only lasting cure.

Reflection: Where do you need peace today? What small or big thing needs to be brought before our Lord today?

Prayer: Forgive me, Jesus, for not trusting you with everything in my life regardless of size. Thank you for being the cure, and bring me the peace that only you can offer. Amen.

Day 4                                      More than Conquerors                                Romans 8:37-39

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Life Application Bible

The Life Application Bible reminds us that, “These verses contain one of the most comforting promises in all Scripture. Believers have always had to face hardships in many forms: persecution, illness, imprisonment, even death. These could cause them to fear that they have been abandoned by Christ. But Paul exclaims that it is impossible to be separated from Christ. Christ’s death for us is proof of unconquerable love. Nothing can stop Christ’s constant presence with us. God tells us how great God’s love is so that we will feel totally secure in God. If we believe these overwhelming assurances, we will not be afraid.”[1]

Fear causes us to mistrust God’s love for us, it makes us ill. Paul reminds us that we can let go of fear and we can face our trials head on knowing that God is with us. As Christians, our stories do not have to stand on their own. Other stories of suffering join ours. Jesus’ story of the ultimate suffering is there as well. We are not alone. We have each other, and more importantly we have the love of God and God’s story to help us through. There is a plaque that hangs on my office door that reads, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” As long as we allow God to lead the dance we will keep in step and end gracefully in the arms of Jesus.

Reflection: What fears do you need to let go of today? Close your eyes, and imagine the presence of Jesus with you. Ask Jesus to take away your fears and to be a constant abiding presence in your life.

Prayer: Blessed Jesus, help me to release the fear that sometimes grips me causing me to lose timing and doubt your healing power and blessed grace. Create in me the strength to splash through the puddles of life until we meet in your kingdom. Amen.

Day 5                                                  Spiritual Health                                Matthew 9:1-2

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’” NIV

When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, the first thing Jesus said to him was “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus’ first concern was with the man’s spiritual health. When we allow our spiritual health to weaken, we lose our strength to fight what this world throws at us. Our ability to endure physical, emotional, or relational issues weakens and we end up digging ourselves into an early grave. For a moment pretend that your spiritual life can be gauged by weights, one pound through 66 pounds. (One pound=one book of the Bible or one chapter of the story). Each pound represents the amount of time spent in building your spiritual health. As spiritual weight lifters if we do not lift weights regularly then we become weak and do not have the strength to conquer the enemy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, and with regular spiritual exercise, we become stronger and eventually we will lift those 66 pounds with less effort while being able to provide more impact. We become less intimidated with worldly factors because we have gained the confidence and spiritual strength required to standup to the worldly woes in a Christian manner.

Reflection: The Bible is our set of exercise weights to strengthen our spiritual body. Do you exercise your ailing spiritual body regularly? Are you getting stronger so you can be used by God?

Prayer: Blessed Savior, forgive me for not being faithful to my spiritual health. Grant me the desire to be more attentive to the strength that can only be increased through you. Amen.

Day 6                                                  The Hands of Jesus                                       Luke 7:14-15

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” NIV

Jesus restores life to a woman’s dead son. Jesus touched the bier, which is a stand on which a casket containing a corpse is placed to be carried to the grave. Jesus restored life! Have you ever thought about what the healing, restorative hands of Jesus looked like? Have you ever thought about what Jesus’ physical touch would have felt like? My imagination sees rough, worn, calloused, tanned, hands that have been subjected to hard days of physical labor as a carpenter. After the crucifixion, those same hands would have holes in them where spikes were driven to hold Jesus’ body on the cross. Those hands reach out to comfort us in our times of need and sorrow. Those same hands are the hands that work through us as we share the story of Jesus. Those same hands are the ones that clasp ours as we provide healing touches to others in their time of need, bringing Jesus’ story, our story, and the one to whom we are telling the story together. Rough, worn, and torn hands that provide a love far greater than we can imagine.

Reflection: Many times just the touch of a hand is all of the healing necessary to change a life. Do we provide this kind of healing? No, but the one who does can work through our touch, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to heal and make new. Are you willing to give your hands over to Jesus?

Prayer: Jesus, open my eyes and show me how and where you can use my hands. Let them be an instrument of your healing power. Amen.

Day 7                                                 United in Jesus!                                Hebrews 13:15-16

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” NIV

Someday all who profess the name of Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be set free from all earthly sufferings. One of my favorite old hymns is “There Will be Peace in the Valley”. The chorus is as follows:

There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me.

We will all be healed from whatever ails us. God’s stories and our stories will join in an unending hymn of praise. Until that time, my prayer is that we are all willing to be disciples of Jesus Christ, sharing our stories of Jesus’ healing power for the glory of God.

Reflection: Will you allow God to use you? Will you be the healing hands of Jesus to your family, friends, and the stranger on the street?

Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, I thank you for your story and the story you have given me. I pray that I will see my weaknesses and allow you to take them away and strengthen my faith. Help me to keep my body physically strong and my mind and soul spiritually strong. Take away the fears that I may have in serving you. Help me, Lord, be open to you as you use my hands, and God stories to help others realize your love for them. In your name, blessed Jesus, I pray. Amen.

[1] Life Application Bible, Tyndale Press, 1993, p. 2071.

Daily Devotional ~ Telling Your Story ~ Week 3

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Day 1              Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve   Joshua 24: 14-15       by Sarah Dorrance

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord, But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” NIV

Joshua had just led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The baton of leadership had been handed from Moses to Joshua. The Israelites arrived in the land of milk and honey. Joshua was reminding them, once again, of God’s covenant. He said they had to choose whom they were going to serve, for there were many distractions in the Promised Land.

It is no different for us. There are many distractions in our world as well. There are many things that try to draw us away from the living God; there are many things that try to pull us away from our creator, redeemer, and sustainer of life. Every day, we too, must choose whom we will serve.

When we do not stay focused on whom we are serving, we miss opportunities. Sometimes we not only miss opportunities, but we also do our own form of rebellion against God. Our rebellion can be a huge deterrent when we are trying to reflect God to the neighborhood and the nations.

So, whom do you choose to serve? How will you live out that service on a daily basis? Is serving the LORD reflected in your daily speech and actions? Are you a child of the covenantal promise?

Reflection: In looking back at the past week, did you reflect God in your actions and words?

Prayer: God, we want to be children of the covenant, we want to be serving you and telling your stories. Too often we are distracted by the world around us that attempts to draw us away from you. By the power of your Holy Spirit, keep us steadfastly in relationship with you. Amen.

Day 2                                      God Heals Faithlessness                  Jeremiah 3:22            by Andy Cimbala

“Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.” ESV

Have you ever realized you’ve been unfaithful to God? Maybe it’s a missed Gospel opportunity. Maybe you spoke harsh words to your family. Maybe you skipped your Bible reading to work on your hobby. The harder we examine our hearts, the more we realize that we just do not have what it takes. We are a bad friend to God. We commit to things then back out. We say we will attend to something then we do not show. We claim we will change, then we jump right back into our old habits.

God knows that we are faithless, we are not fooling God. But this is where God shines. God calls us to return to God’s self, but not for discipline! This is not for a tongue lashing. No, our God beckons to us to return so that God can heal our faithlessness. God is the source of the healing that we desperately need. Earlier, in Jeremiah 3:12, God says, “Return, faithless Israel, I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious, I will not be angry forever.” God calls us to repentance, but God does so through God’s marvelous grace.

Reflection: How have you been unfaithful to God this week? Confess that to God now. What is God’s attitude towards you when you are unfaithful? Answer: gracious. Take a few minutes to thank God for God’s mercy and faithfulness to you.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for responding to my rebellion with grace. Thank you for offering me healing. I need it. Please heal my faithlessness, and “bind my wandering heart to Thee.”[1] Amen.

Day 3                                      Return to the LORD             Hosea 3:1-5                by Andy Cimbala

And the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, ‘You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.’ For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” ESV

The story of Hosea is a strange romantic comedy. In chapter 1 God calls Hosea the prophet to marry a prostitute named Gomer, to symbolize the faithfulness of God as the husband to Israel, his unfaithful wife. A few verses later Gomer is already cheating on Hosea, and his heart is broken. By chapter 3, she is being sold into slavery by her adulterous lovers, and God calls Hosea to do something radical: go buy back your wife.

This is a living parable of God’s pursuing mercy and faithfulness to God’s people! Even though we continually stray from God and disobey God’s commandments, and run after idols, God still pursues us in God’s faithful love. God promises in Hosea 2:14, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her.” We see this again in 2:20, “And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.” Our rebellion and adultery do not stop God’s love. God stays true to us, even ransoming God’s own life in order to buy us back out of our slavery to sin and death. We see this fulfilled in Christ, who paid the penalty we deserved on the cross, to rescue us as his bride.

Reflection: How have you betrayed the covenant with God? Of what idolatries are you guilty? God does not reject you, rather God is still pursuing you. Press on to know the Lord, and trust that our God is like a forgiving spouse who longs to have you back. God still loves you!

Prayer: God, thank you for your faithful love. Thank you for pursuing me and winning me back. Help me to see your grace and kindness, and respond by returning to you. Amen.

Day 4                                                  Restoration                            Joel 2:25                     by Andy Cimbala

“Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” ESV

During the time of Joel the prophet, God’s people had turned away from God. God tried several ways to get the attention of the people, even turning up the heat to the point of sending locusts that ate the crops, reminiscent of the plagues against Egypt during the Exodus. Still God’s people would not repent and return to God!

Joel steps onto the stage and speaks with God’s authority, “Yet even now, return to me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; rend your heart and not your garments.”[2] If they will return to God and repent, then God will pour out blessing! Not only will God stop the discipline and start the blessing, but God will make up to them all the difficulty that the discipline had brought. What a gracious God we have! God makes this crazy claim: even though it is our sin that has caused the locust plague, God will restore the years the locusts have eaten.

We do not serve a vindictive God, who delights in seeing us suffer. We serve a loving, kind, patient creator who knows what is best for us. When we return to God, God goes above and beyond in restoring us in a powerful way, even restoring to us the very things that God had taken away in God’s discipline. God does this out of unconditional love for us, the very ones whom God created.

Reflection: Have you seen the consequences of your sin? Perhaps in broken relationships, or enslaving habits, or an embittered heart? Return to the Lord! Not only will God forgive you of your sins, but God even has the power to restore you.

Prayer: Merciful Lord, please forgive me for my many sins against you. I have such deaf ears. Thank you for calling me to return to you and being willing to restore me to a right relationship with you. Allow my heart to stir with joy and gratitude toward your mercy and grace. Amen.

Day 5     Seek the Lord Your God with All Your Heart   Deuteronomy 4:29-31 by Sarah Dorrance

But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” NIV

Do we seek the LORD with all of our hearts? The time when I was farthest away from God was in my college days. Some of these occasions were when I was less than nice and other times when I was just not being faithful to God.

In particular, for me, it was my foul mouth. For a short period of time, mine was a sailor’s mouth. One day I overheard another person speaking as I had for a few months. Suddenly, I realized that this one thing, even though seemingly so small, was not a reflection of the God who created me and not a reflection of who I wanted to be.

Sometimes we fail to pay attention to the small things that might lead us to stray from God, like the words that were coming out of my mouth which did not honor anyone, let alone the God of all creation. We look at the big things and we might think that we are in a good place, but God wants all of us. God wants us to turn our lives completely over to God. Little things whittle at our belief system, so much so that we can begin the erroneous thought of, “Well, that one little time will not matter.” Maybe we begin to say, “This one little area of my life will be ok, even if it is not really what God wants.”

The prophets are here to warn us of this false thinking. We are reminded by God to seek the Lord with all our heart and soul. God sent prophets to call the people and us back to a faithful God. In reality, we all need calling back to God. Belonging to God is a choice we make every day.

In sharing our God stories it is important that we also share that we do not have this following God thing down perfectly, but we are trying every day to follow God in a more authentic way.

Reflection: What small part of my life have I been trying to “keep from God?” Am I ready to turn it over and seek God with all my heart and soul in order to be a better reflection of my Lord and savior?

Prayer: God, you know I cannot do this on my own. Empower me by your Holy Spirit to turn every aspect of my life over to you, and to seek you with all of my heart and soul. Amen.

Day 6                          Asking God to Speak                        Jeremiah 43:1-4        by Melissa Cimbala

“When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.’” ESV

Have you ever thought that life would be easier if God just told you what you should do next? Have you ever wanted God to directly speak into your situation and inform you which path to take? In the book of Jeremiah, chapters 42-43, God’s people think the same thing. After the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem, the remnant of survivors went to the prophet Jeremiah, whom they had ignored up until this point, and promised that if God told them what to do, they would obey this time. But do they follow through with their promise? After the LORD tells them distinctly to stay in the land and not to hide in Egypt, the people directly disobey. Even though God directly tells them all the blessing that God will pour upon them if they stay, they refuse. God’s plan for their lives seems too scary, too hard, and too unclear.

While we may not have a modern day prophet like Jeremiah to tell us where God is directing us, we do have something better! We have the entire Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the recorded life and teaching of our savior Jesus Christ. God may not tell us exactly where we should go live or work as God did in Jeremiah 42-43, but God does tell us what we should be doing and the people with whom we should be engaging. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus tells us to, “Go and make disciples…”  That may seem scary, hard, or unclear, but God promises blessing and success if we obey! God has directly told us what to do next. Will you choose to obey?

Reflection: Have you asked God to speak into your life?  Is it possible that Scripture may already contain the answers that you are seeking? Do you, (like me,) “ask” God for direction when you already know what the answer should be? Are you following the command that God has spoken to you to make disciples? How can you make disciples in the places God has called you to be?

Prayer: God of wisdom and grace, so often we ask for you to speak, but in our fears and discomfort we forget that you have already spoken to us through your Word. Empower us to put our trust in you and to remember that you are with us forever, “until the end of the ages.”[3] Amen.

Day 7                          Standing at the Crossroads             Jeremiah 6:16           by Sarah Dorrance

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” NIV

 

Have you ever been on a path that had lost its directional sign and you had to determine the direction in which the route was headed? I like to hike. There have been multiple times, while out hiking in the mountains, that the path was not well marked or the sign had been broken. I was literally standing at a crossroads not certain which path was going to take me home and which path would take me deeper into the rough, wooded area of the mountain.

Sometimes we speak of a crossroad in life. This is a time when we have two very different paths that lead in opposite directions, and we have to determine which path to use. We often see those crossroads at intersections of life when we have major decisions to make. Which person should I marry? What should I do after high school? Should I quit this job and begin a different one that might be less lucrative, but would make me more content? There are so many questions and so many choices!

Sometimes, however, we stand at a crossroads and we do not recognize that it is a crossroad. Sometimes we are so busy doing the same old thing that we fail to acknowledge that if something does not change, the result from doing “the same old thing” is going to be disastrous.

This is where we are in many main-line denominations in America today. Christians are standing at a crossroads, and often we do not even recognize this as a crossroad. Sometimes we think, “If people would straighten up and be like us, this would be easy.”

The reality is that we are standing at a crossroads of culture. Christians are the aliens. We are the folks who do not belong to this culture. How are we going to reach the nations for God if we cannot meet the culture where it is? What should we do differently? How will we reach through to our neighbors who have never heard the Gospel message? What is the prophet calling us to do in our day and time?

One thing we can do at that crossroads is learn to tell our God stories. Another thing we can do is build relationships with those who are not inclined to attend a church where they can hear the Gospel message. One thing we can do is learn to bless our neighbors. These are things we can do differently that will bring about change for good. We stand at a crossroads—pray to the LORD for direction and guidance.

Reflection: Do you feel like you are at a crossroads? In which direction do you intend to travel?

Prayer: God, empower me through your Holy Spirt to be able to reach across the divide of culture in order to be a part of your new creation on earth. Amen.

[1] Quote from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

[2] Joel 2:12-13, ESV.

[3] Matthew 28:21, ESV.

Speak Life ~ Our Words DO Matter

speak-life

It is no secret that I am a Toby Mac fan. When I first saw this Christian artist in concert, I was not sure that I really enjoyed him, but then I heard him in a talk back session, and I realized that I liked what I heard from his heart. The more I see Toby, the more I like him and appreciate what he is doing to build the Kingdom of God. It is always with great anticipation that I attend his concerts.

His very short testimony of one of his songs speaks to my heart in a new way. I have been enjoying his song entitled “Speak Life,” but during one particular concert he told us the story behind the writing of the song. Toby had read the Raggamuffin Gospel when he was younger. He says he remembers reading Manning’s words, “When you speak to someone you either speak life or you drain life, there are no neutral exchanges.” Hence, the song that Toby wrote was birthed.

I’ve been thinking of this quote for a long time, “There are no neutral exchanges.” What about me and my words? Sure it is easy for me to speak life when I am doing the work of the church, that is easy. But what about when I am running into the grocery store to buy something quickly or as I move about my busy day in the world? When I am doing errands I have a purpose and I move through that purpose quickly. To be blunt and honest, people who are serving who are not on my same page when I am rushing around irritate me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not mean, I am not impolite; but I don’t speak words of life. I thought these were neutral exchanges. Toby’s words, “There are no neutral exchanges” have been haunting me. I can do better, I can be better. Maybe these exchanges have a divine appointment for me or for someone else. Maybe I am the one to speak life into someone else’s life who is drowning. After all, I know the Good News, and maybe I can speak enough life to allow a person to trust me so that I can share that Good News which is what really matters.

Meanwhile, this week I have been practicing speaking life into the lives of those who would otherwise be “incidental” in my day. They have been wonderful exchanges. I am learning and growing.

How about you? Do you speak life or do you drain life? Are you the one from which someone will remember the conversation or are you the one they wish they will never wait on again? As for me, I am trying to practice new habits.

Thanks Toby, for giving me a new perspective on the way I speak in common everyday exchanges of words.

An Alaskan Psalm ~ Psalm Study

alaska2015-nikon (311)

This Alaskan Psalm was created by Andy, Melissa, Carol, Frank and Sarah. It was written in the style of Psalm 140. Enjoy.

Praise the Lord
The mountains praise you
Your creation is just a glimpse of Your majesty
We have only a taste of the buffet of your glory
Great is the Lord.

Before the mountains existed
Before the Kenai ran turquoise
All this was in your mind
The complex harmony
Unseen in your thoughts alone.

Seward lies at the height of Resurrection
Surrounded by ice and rock
Sea otters cradle their young
Floating on the mattress of their own bellies.
Killer whales remind us of your ferocity
As we gaze with fear and awe.
Sea lions cling to the island stone
Showing us how we must stand on our Rock.
The salmon are your bounty
That You have provided for Your children.
Silver and swift
They dwell in the deep
As the ocean waves pass over,
The dark teems below.
The heavens are full of your creatures,
Puffins and bald eagles and seagulls
Bridging the gap between the waters above and below.

Cooper Landing sings your praise.
The mighty bears look to you
To give them their salmon at the Run,
Fireweed shouts your beauty
As the bees drink Your nectar.
You sustain the moose
And shroud it in the cover of your forests.
The pines reach up toward you
And the falls tumble down.
Mountains rise up in grandeur
And valleys bow down in submission to You.

I want to flee to the North
When the earth quakes and the mountains tremble
Where the cold holds us at bay,
Your creation is safer
And the animals play.
Even though much is extinct
and the rest is in decay
still the immeasurable beauty of it all
takes my breath away.
Man has brought the curse
Upon your good world
How then can we stand
And still give you praise?
You use creation both good and broken
To draw us back to you in wonder.

This was your wise plan
That in your great mercy
You did not utterly wash us away
For our iniquity and pride.
Though justice was on your side
You absorbed it all in our place
Your mountains and rivers of wrath
Fell on Him instead.

Therefore we praise You!
Creator of glaciers and eagles
For You have brought forth all this
Even more, You have washed us of our stains
To make us as white as snow-capped mountains
Praise the Lord!
Let all Alaska praise Your Name!