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.

Daily Devotional Week 2 ~ Telling Your Story ~ God is Faithful ~ By Rev. Dr. Wade Martin

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Day 1                                                  Follow Where God Leads                                         James 4:13-15

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” NIV

Do you wake up each day wondering what God has in store for you? I know I like to wake up, create my “To Do List,” and be in control of my day, but God has taught me (and continues to teach me every day) that what I think I need to do and what God thinks I need to do can be remarkably different. Years ago, a colleague shared with me his morning prayer, he said, “I ask God to give me an open mind to be able to hear from God what I should do and with whom I should connect today.” That simple prayer has stuck with me over the years and has become part of my prayer life as well. As a result I have encountered people and opportunities that I never had considered before.

Building the future offers us opportunities to witness to our faith every day. It is not hard. If we share our story and allow God to do the rest, amazing life-change can and will occur.

Reflection: Are you open to the leading of God and what God’s plan is for you? Or do you go your own way, in your own power, remaining focused on what you hope to achieve?

Prayer: Gracious God, help me to place my “To Do List” in your hands. Give me the courage to share my story with others, to your glory not mine. In Christ Jesus I pray. Amen.

Day 2                                                  Perseverance                                                 1 Timothy 6:11-12

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” NIV

Sometimes our past or a part of our past is something we would like to forget. But our story is incomplete if we do not include the good, the bad, and the ugly. No one has a perfect past. We all have sinned, and thus have fallen short of the glory of God. This is why God sent God’s Son Jesus to serve as the unblemished sacrifice for each of us who believe.

Because of this truth, as we receive Christ as our Lord and savior we can know with all assurance that sins are forgiven, past, present, and future. This assurance ought to give us the desire to persevere regardless of what we are going through. Even when things seem dire, persevere by holding on to the promise and truth of Scripture. The Apostle Paul tells us, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.”[1]

The ultimate end for our lives ought to be living as true disciples of Jesus, so much so we will follow Jesus through anything. We need to accept our past without regret and learn to lean into God’s grace for the future. We need to quit beating ourselves up and allow the Holy Spirit to heal our hearts. As we build the future, God does not want us to focus on our past in an unhealthy way. Rather, God wants us to learn from our past, and then let God reconcile our past by redeeming it. “Fight the good fight,”[2] Paul says, and focus on the gift and reward of eternal life.

Reflection: Are there things from your past for which you need to seek forgiveness? Are you willing to turn any guilt and shame over to the Lord so that you can move forward to build a strong future?

Prayer: Almighty One, I know I have fallen short of your glory and ask to be forgiven. Use me, Lord, as your disciple to build a future focused on you. In your precious name I pray. Amen.

Day 3                                      Embrace the Basic Things                            1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” NIV

Growing up, I really only knew one grandparent, my mother’s mother. My father’s parents died before I was born and my mother’s father was an alcoholic who pretty much stuck to himself in the basement. My grandmother, whom I have come to admire over the years, was a woman of basic means. My grandmother never learned to drive and I am not sure she ever even wanted to learn. She grew most of her food in her large gardens, and she walked to the small store just up the hill from her house to get other needed items.

Whenever we would visit my grandmother, she always had a smile on her face and a kind word to say (even when we broke her flowers). When she worked in the garden she would hum her favorite hymns and talk to her flowers like they were friends. Of course as a young boy, I thought she was crazy. But as I look back on her life I have come to appreciate how my grandmother really appreciated the basic things in life. In reality, she embraced faith, hope, and love in all she said and did.

Conversely, many have made life today overly complicated and complex. We do not seem to appreciate the basic things as we once did. As a result we can tend to push God out of our lives easily. Other “more important” activities have taken priority away from our relationship with God: sports, sleeping in, work, and even family.

As we think about building the future, it all hinges on where we place God on our priority list. If God is not number one on our list, our future cannot be all that God wants it to be. We must embrace the basic things of life: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.[3]

Reflection: We are bombarded daily with things from this world that keep us from focusing on God. Do not allow your life to become unnecessarily complicated. Keep it basic and keep God first in your life. Live by faith, embrace hope, and witness to God’s love.

Prayer: Lord God, have I managed to push you off the top of my list? Forgive me, and help me to return to the basics of life. Empower me to reprioritize what it is I give my attention to, so that you are number one. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Day 4                                                  Inspiration                                                      Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” NIV

As a pastor I have attended or officiated many funerals over the years. After some of the funerals I have said to myself, “I never knew that about the person” or, “I wish I had known them better.” I get great inspiration from those who have lived the faith and have now gone on to be with the Lord. The stories of our ancestors can serve to inspire and encourage us as we navigate life’s journeys to build a faithful future.

The Christian life is an endurance race, which includes many hills and valleys. But in the midst of this sometimes roller coaster ride, remembering the lives of those who have gone on before us can offer us inspiration and hope. The hope and promise of those who died in the faith is eternal salvation. Jesus opened the way to eternal salvation, and God’s new Covenant will never be superseded. God creates our faith by God’s grace through the Gospel and sacraments, and then the Holy Spirit brings us to the consummation of our salvation. As we cling to the memories of those who have gone on before us, may we build a better future so that all may come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Reflection: Are there people from your past who have died, yet continue to inspire you to this day? Are you living a life that can serve as an inspiration for those in your sphere of influence, or for those still to come?

Prayer: Lord, bring to my mind those individuals I know from my past who have had a tremendous impact on me. Remind me of how they lived so that I may be inspired to live a life that might inspire others. Amen.

Day 5                                                              All In                                       Philippians 3:12-14

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” NIV

One of the attributes that keeps us connected to the saints of the past, present, and future is our willingness to be all in for the Lord. In Paul’s encouraging word he speaks of “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”[4] What this passage encourages is that Christians who go “all in” for the Lord, cultivate a discipline of:

  • Focus on striving for the goal which Christ has set before us, until it is fulfilled, while not allowing the obstacles of this world to derail us.
  • Making the decision to let go of past sins, and refusing to be paralyzed or rendered complacent by them.
  • Following, by powerfully pursuing the calling of the Christian life, until the final victory has been won and the crown of glory is yours.

As powerful as the stories and witness of the past can be, we now have the opportunity to continue writing the story, a glorious story of Christ and Christ’s relationship with us. Most of what is handed down to us comes from story, and many of these stories serve to encourage us to “press on toward the goal.” As you consider your story, begin by going all in for the Lord and then allow your story to be counted among the many that will encourage generations to come.

Reflection: We all have a story, and it is part of God’s greater story. How has or can your story encourage others? Have you truly gone all in for the Lord or do you walk around the fringes of faith?

Prayer: Holy God, I want to go all in for your son Jesus. Empower me to let go of those things that keep me on the fringes of faith and lead me to an all in relationship with Christ. It is in Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

 

Day 6                                                  Trust and Obey                                              Psalm 84:11-12

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.” NIV

Following Jesus into the future often requires recapturing the innocence of our childhood. When we were young, we accepted much of what we were taught at face value. And, in spite of a temper tantrum or two, we followed our parents and did what we were told to do, mostly without question. We had a level of trust in our parents.

As we march forward to building the future, we need to have that same level of trust, the trust of children, as we follow where God leads us, knowing that God will provide what we need and will show us the way forward. The first verse of the great hymn “Trust and Obey,” written by John H. Sammis, puts it like this:

 

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,

What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will, He abides with us still,

                                   And with all who will trust and obey.

Reflection: Have you placed your whole trust in the Lord? What do you continue to hold on to that prevents you from giving your whole self to “trust and obey?”

Prayer: God of the past, present, and future. Create in me a heart of trust and obedience so that I might serve you. Remove any doubt I may have about your abilities. Give me a steadfast faith so that I may be the servant you have called me to be. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Day 7                                                  Vision of the Future                                       Proverbs 29:18

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” KJV

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that God has a purpose for each of us. The prophet writes, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (NIV). What is your personal vision of the future based on God’s purpose and calling on your life? As our Scripture reminds us, “Without vision the people perish.” Without direction it is hard to know where we are going. When I speak, especially to young adults, it is disheartening to hear how many of them have no idea what they are going to do with their lives. When I ask about spiritual giftedness or God’s calling on their lives, many give me a blank stare because they either do not know what I am talking about, or had not considered what God has gifted or called, them to do.

As disciples of Jesus Christ there is a call on our lives, a call that must be Spirit-led and Spirit-fed. A disciple’s commitment is more than words, it is active, and it is a way of life. Like the prophets and saints who have gone on before us, disciples have heard the voice of God asking: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And they have boldly responded: “Here I am—send me!”[5]

Reflection: Have you heard or sensed the voice of God calling you (maybe nagging you) to go and do such and such? Have you turned away? What is your personal vision of your life? Is it in sync with your giftedness and God’s call?

Prayer: Lord, there are some days I just feel like I am going through the motions with no clear vision of where I am headed. Through your Spirit, please give me clarity of heart and mind, so that I might see clearly where you are pointing me to go. In the name of Jesus the Christ I pray. Amen.

[1]   Philippians 4:13, ESV.

[2] 1 Timothy 6:12, NIV.

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV.

[4] Philippians 3:13, NIV.

[5] Isaiah 6:8, NIV.

Daily Devotional for Week 1 ~ Telling Your Story ~ Blessed to be a Blessing

Below please find week one of the daily devotionals for “Telling Your Story” written by Rev. Sarah Dorrance

Day 1                                      We Love to Tell Stories                                            Luke 1: 1-4

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” NIV

My Mother is always telling stories of how she and her siblings went to her Grandmother’s farm in Pennsylvania over the summer when she was growing up. I love to hear the story of the two seater outhouse and how there was NO WAY she and her sister were going to use a side by side seating place in the out-house to do their private business. Stories make us laugh, stories make us cry, and stories carry down family traditions. We remember our family history through the telling of the narrative story.

The same is true of our Christian story. Praise God that the Gospel writer Luke was compelled to tell the story of Jesus. He gave us a narrative witness. Jesus was also always telling stories. Many of them are called parables. You can probably even name some of them, “The parable of the Good Samaritan;” “The parable of the Sower.” In reality the Bible is one great narrative, one great love story of how God loved God’s created people. This truly is the greatest story ever told. The exciting part is that we are part of the story! We are part of God’s story! As such, we have a role to continue telling the story. We share stories of our families, why are we reluctant to tell stories of God’s family?

As we enter into this seven week immersion series of “Telling Our Stories,” it is our prayer that you can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to think about your God story—and that you will have the courage to tell it. It has often been said that you might be the only person who will reflect Jesus to someone in your life. That person might be a family member, or that person might be a random person in the street that God placed in your path for a “Time such as this.”[1]

As you become more keenly aware your life story intertwining with God’s greater narrative, you might also become more aware of places that are natural paths towards sharing part of your God story.

Reflection: How do you see God reshaping your story to be something that can be shared with others?

Prayer: God of all Creation: It is scary to think that I might be the only person reflecting Jesus in the life of someone else. It is even more scary to think that I might be the one to tell them a God story, a story of how you have encouraged me, and how that in turn, can encourage them. Empower me, through your Holy Spirit to have courage to speak, when I do not want to speak. Empower me to listen, learn, and to be encouraged, just as others have encouraged me. Amen.

Day 2                                      Who First Told You about Jesus?                 Matthew 19:13–15

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” NIV

Who first told you about God? Who shared with you the Good News of Jesus? When my own children were growing up, some of our most precious moments were every evening when we read the Children’s Bible together. I would even find my daughters, after lights were out, with a flashlight looking at the pictures in their Bibles. By the time they went to Sunday School at our local church they were already proficient in the stories of Jesus.

Many of us had stories of Jesus shared with us when we were young. Someone in your life probably shared a God story with you, too—either when you were young or as an adult. What did that look like for you? What do you remember from those times? Are those happy memories or sad memories? Perhaps today you can share one of those memories with someone.

What would you be missing in your life if that person or those persons had not shared God stories with you? Would there have been another place to hear the stories about Jesus? In 2004 the Barna study indicated that, “nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their 21st birthday. Barna also noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past 20 years, saying that is easier to come to know Jesus when we are younger than when we are older.[2]

Reflection: Give thanks to God this day for those who shared God stories with you. What child can hear a God story from you?

Prayer: God, this day I give you thanks for those who told me about you. I thank you for those who cared about me enough to tell me about Jesus. Place on my heart today, those persons with whom I might be able to share Jesus. Give me wisdom to know when to speak, and wisdom to know when to be silent. Amen.

Day 3                                                  Blessing the Nations                                      Genesis 26:4

“I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” NIV

God made a covenantal promise with Abraham. Abraham was blessed so that he would be a blessing to the nations. That promise went down through Abraham’s descendants, always with the stipulation that they were to be a blessing to the other nations. That promise goes through all the descendants of Abraham, to Isaac and all the others, and ultimately the promise continues through Jesus and becomes grafted onto those who call themselves Christians.

Blessing the nations is another way of being our “brother’s keeper.” We see the effects of sin in the first offspring from Adam and Eve, when Cain killed his brother Abel. The question Cain asks of God is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”[3]

In our culture we continue to ask this question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Am I responsible for the nations? The biblical witness from beginning to end seems to give us a resounding “yes.” From Cain and Abel, to the promise given to the descendants of Abraham, to Jesus seeing that the people were like “sheep without a shepherd.”[4] How did Jesus respond? Jesus had compassion upon the people. Jesus had compassion for the nations.

So how do we bless the nations? One way is that we are to be a godly reflection to them. We are to be so aligned with God that others want to know who God is because of our demeanor; because of our actions; because of the way we care for others; because of our communities, because of our hope, and because we are kingdom builders. How are we doing in blessing the nations?

Reflection: How can I be a blessing to those who are placed around me in my daily living?

Prayer: God, we fall short of your glory and we fall short of reflecting you in the world. Empower us to see the nations and our neighbors with your eyes. Remind me that you love each of them as much as you love me. Help me to be my brother’s keeper. Amen.

Day 4                                                  The Gospel Message                         2 Corinthians 5:21

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” NIV

The signs in the stadium read, “We believe!” It was not hard to know what the people holding the signs believed in—this was the state championship high school football game. Everyone knew that the signs were an indicator that those around believed the team they supported could win the game. We believe!

Christians should be holding those kinds of signs. “We believe!” One of the first problems the sign holder would have to face is, “In what or in whom do I believe?” Often times we have trouble articulating what we believe as Christians. We know some of the “fancy” words, but do we know what we believe? Do I know what I believe?

The Nicene Creed, written by the early church Bishops during the first Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D., is considered one of the universal documents to clarify what a Christian believes. In the Nicene Creed, we state the Gospel message. What is the Gospel message? That Jesus on the cross became the sin that every human has been and has done, so that the wrath of God for the effects of sin, would not fall upon humans, but rather on Jesus on the cross. Humans were, because of the work of Christ on the cross, made sinless and could be reconciled to God—in spite of sin. Sin can be defined as anything that separates us from God. If Jesus was in the football stadium and you were holding up a sign, what would that sign say? This is a good time to consider the question, “What do you believe?” The answer to that question might change over time, or it might have already changed. Our God stories become more powerful if we know what we believe about who God is and how God acts in the world. As the man stated in Mark 9:24, “Lord I do believe, help my unbelief.” Be honest before God. Share your deepest longing, for God already knows your heart’s desire. We can win the game too!

Reflection: Read the Nicene Creed. (https://www.ccel.org/creeds/nicene.creed.html.) Is there anything in this creed about which you are uncertain? If you have questions, ask your pastor or small group leader. Today is a good time to sit down and begin the process of thinking through what you believe.

Prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: This day we come before you begging for you to empower us to believe those things that might be more difficult for us to understand or articulate. Lord, we believe, help our unbelief. Amen.

Day 5                                                  Beautiful Feet                                    Romans 10:14-15

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” NIV

When I was a child I would look at people’s feet. I would often wonder where those feet had been and where they had carried the person. Where will those feet go next?

A greater understanding of the role of feet began to slowly dawn on me as I read the words of Paul, who was referring back to the prophet Isaiah, who says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”[5]

If Paul had not taken the Gospel message out to the nations, you and I might never have heard about Jesus. We might not have had the opportunity to hear the hope that is in Christ. It might be hard to believe in our technological age that there are still nations around the world and people groups who have not heard about Jesus. It is even more difficult to believe there are people in our own neighborhoods who have not heard the Gospel message. Yet, there are people in our own backyards who, while they have driven past churches, really do not know what people “do” inside a church. To them, church is a place of judgment and condemnation of the world. To them, church is irrelevant to their lives.

You might ask, “How it is that people in our own backyards have not heard about Jesus and why are our churches perceived as irrelevant?” The reality is our American culture has changed. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research[6], more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends.[7]

As the map of American church life changes, so, too, we must change in order to meet the needs of the culture. Our message does not change, but the way in which we deliver the message and the way in which we reach American culture must change in order for us to be effective witnesses for Jesus.

This is where the missional church comes in. How can we bless the nations? How can we bless those in our backyards? This is our challenge. Are you up for it?

Reflection: How can we share the hope that we have in Christ to a people of a culture that might not see the church as relevant in their lives?

Prayer: Risen Christ, Give me opportunities and the courage to be a reflection of you in my culture and in my circles of influence. By the power of your Spirit, help me have the right words to show that you are the only relevant thing in our lives. Amen.

Day 6                                      Hoarding or Sharing?                                    2 Corinthians 9:13

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” NIV

Sometimes my good friend in France sends me chocolates direct from France. They are some of the best chocolates of the world, and they are some of my favorite treats. Each time the chocolates arrive I have a choice to make: Do I want to share them with friends and family, or do I want to hoard them for myself?

Sometimes our sharing of Christ is treated in a similar manner. It might not be that we are hoarding Christ, but we might not be sharing because we are afraid of what others might think, or we are afraid of being made fun of, or we just do not think it will be important, or we are afraid of retribution in our places of work. We have to find new ways around these roadblocks. Is knowing Jesus important to you? Then it might be important to another person.

The reality is that we have to do more than invite folks to weekend worship services. That is a good beginning. In addition, we need to find ways to build relationships, and we have to tell our own God stories. George Barna underscored some significant insights in his research. “Just as our nation’s culture has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, so has the way in which people come to Christ,” he explained. “The weekend church service is no longer the primary mechanism for salvation decisions; only one out of every ten believers who makes a decision to follow Christ does so in a church setting or service. On the other hand, personal relationships have become even more important in evangelism, with a majority of salvation decisions coming in direct response to an invitation given by a family member or friend.”[8]

We have a choice to make. Too often, we do not consciously think of this as a choice, but rather we go about the business of our lives without offering hope in Jesus. Too often, like my chocolates, we want to hoard that hope for ourselves, or, we just do not understand the responsibility we have to share the Good News of Jesus with the nations.

Reflection: What makes you hesitant about speaking up about Jesus? Do you think this is important?

Prayer: God of All Creation: Empower me to be a sharer of blessings and not a hoarder. Sometimes we think we do not have enough, yet we know that you have blessed us to bless others. Help me to make choices that honor you. Amen.

Day 7                                      Kingdom Builders!                                        Philippians 1:27

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” NIV

A friend of mine had a good friend pass away too early in life. This 53 year old person had over 600 people show up at his funeral. Without fail, ever person attending the funeral said that the deceased had made a positive impact in their lives. That is kingdom building! Without exception, each person present said they were there because the deceased had lived a life worthy of the Gospel message.

The strange thing is, my friend never even knew he attended a church, she never knew he was a person of faith. When we live a life worthy of the Gospel message we are automatically building God’s kingdom. We are making a difference in the lives of others without even realizing what we are doing.

This has to do with how we love people. Are other people important to us? All of God’s people are important to God. How do we love them? How do we care for each other?

There are times when we are moving so fast that we do not notice people around us or interact with them. Maybe we just interact automatically or out of routine. Does this sound like you in the grocery store or at the mall? There are other times when we are so absorbed with our own issues and problems that we do not pay attention to those who are helping us.

What would it take to slow down and observe what God is doing in God’s kingdom? What would it take to be a kingdom builder and live a life worthy of the Gospel message?

Reflection: Are you a kingdom builder? What would empower you to be better at building the kingdom of God?

Prayer: God of the kingdom, I want to be a kingdom builder for you, however the very idea of sharing my story makes me very nervous. Give me courage to be your kingdom builder, and to live a life worthy of the Gospel message. Amen.

[1] Esther 4:14, NIV.

[2] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/196-evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids#.VQ9uT-G0DMs, accessed March 22, 2015.

[3] Genesis 4:9, NIV.

[4] Matthew 9:36, NIV.

[5] Isaiah 52:7, NIV.

[6] http://www.hartfordinstitute.org/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/why-nobody-wants-to-go-to_b_4086016.html, accessed March 31,

2015.

[8] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/196-evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids#.VQ9uT-G0DMs, accessed March 22, 2015.