Telling Your Story ~ Weekly Devotionals ~ Week 7 by Rev. Dana Werts

Day 1  Be Alert: Set Your Spiritual Radar on High                     Luke 19:1-10

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. ‘ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” NIV

One hectic day, I rushed into the grocery store to run an errand. In the checkout line, my eyes fell on the word, “faith,” tattooed on the young lady in front of me. After checking out, I hurried to my car and prepared to travel to my next appointment. Suddenly, I looked up and there she was—the tattooed young woman, carrying a heavy load of grocery bags, walking towards the street. I didn’t have time; I didn’t know her. But, I felt the pull of the Spirit and pulled up next to her, offering her a ride. “I was praying that someone would help me, and then you stopped,” she said.

Jesus looked up and saw Zacchaeus. If anyone was overcommitted, bombarded by distractions, and preoccupied with deep thoughts, it was Jesus. Yet his spiritual radar was set on high, and Jesus saw this little man, hidden among the branches of the sycamore tree. Before we can share our stories, we have to be aware of those who need to hear.

Reflection: Is your spiritual radar on high? Who does God want you to invite to the banquet of God’s love?

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to see as you see. Move me from my own selfish agenda to really see the people you have placed in front of me who need your love. Amen.

Day 2                                      Be Bold-Take a Relational Risk                              John 4:7-10

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’” NIV

I was preaching a sermon on homelessness, and wanted to interview a homeless person. At the church’s soup kitchen, Larry and I discussed his experiences living under the bridge. This turned into a relationship that continued way beyond the sermon. We kept in touch through email, even after Larry moved away, and I was blessed to find out he now has a job and a home.

Larry shared with me that he longed for others to look at him as being human, instead of being seen as “vermin.” It was a gift for someone to look him in the eye and smile, instead of avoiding him, afraid he might ask for a handout. Taking a risk relationally, I was deeply moved by how much God used Larry to teach and bless me, when I thought I would be the one helping Larry.

God took a relational risk, entering our world in Jesus Christ. God risked rejection, misunderstanding and ridicule to reconcile the relationship between God and the people God created. Jesus reached out to the woman at the well to share “living water,” taking a relational risk, especially in that culture. We cannot share our God stories, if we will not take relational risks. Maybe the first step is to really look others in the eye and smile, acknowledging their worth, even if they are different from us.

Reflection: Are you willing to risk a relationship with someone you don’t know to love them as Christ loves us? What first step do we need to take to reach out?

Prayer: Lord, let our loving be bold. Let our actions and words reflect your bold love for us. Amen.

Day 3                          Be Real– Let Your Life Song Sing              2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” NIV

Some say that music is most powerful when it contains notes of dissonance, sounds that produce tension and a desire to be resolved. Concerned about what others think about us, we often want only our achievements and strengths to be the notes of our life song. However, it is those dissonant parts of our lives that sometimes speak most powerfully to others – the sin overcome, the fear removed, or the weakness that leads us to depend on God. Sharing honestly conveys that there is tension in the Christian life, places of weakness that we desire to be resolved, transformed. It is risky to be transparent to the world, but it is through honest testimony that God can speak with power to those who struggle with weakness and sin.

I struggle with Attention Deficit Syndrome. My desk reflects my struggle with organization. I finally confessed my need. Without judgment, a woman at church offered to organize my files. Her strength met my weakness and I was overwhelmed with thanksgiving and joy! God is able to harmonize our dissonant notes as we open our lives honestly to the love of God. This song of hope sings to the world, in need of healing and in need of joyous song.

Reflection: What are your dissonant notes or your areas of weakness? Does your life song proclaim to others the transforming power of God?

Prayer: Lord, I offer my life to you with all its conflicting notes and unresolved issues. Create a new song of thanksgiving that bears hope to the world. Amen.

Day 4              Be Persevering—Don’t Give Up      1 Corinthians 13:7, Matthew 13:1-23

 It [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” NIV

“Then he [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’ The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the Word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the Word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the Word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the Word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’” NIV

What kind of farmer is this sower in the parable? If he knows that the seed will only grow in good soil, why not plant it there? Isn’t that a waste to sow good seed in places it probably won’t grow? Isn’t that so like God? God’s love is poured out on all, grace given freely, even if there is no guarantee of a harvest. God knows that some will fall into the hearts of those ready to respond. God’s love never gives up on us.

There was a youth at the church who tried my patience, pushed my buttons, and hurt my feelings repeatedly. Yet, I could see below the surface, a beautiful girl, gifted to serve. I wanted to throw in the towel, more than once, but God’s loud whisper in my soul was, “Keep loving her, don’t give up on her.” Some years later, she came to me and apologized for how difficult she had been to me. She was glad I never gave up on her. I rejoiced in knowing she was growing into her faith and using her gifts. God’s love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Reflection: How can you scatter the seeds of God’s love with no guarantee that someone will respond? Are you able to share your story with someone who rejects your words, and still continue to love them?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for never giving up on me. Enable me to love with your relentless love that gives with no expectation of return. Amen.

 

Day 5  Be Simple. Let Your Light Shine, But Not Your Words Confuse    Matthew 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” NIV

Christian leaders sometimes like to use a lot of big “churchy” words, like sanctification, incarnation, and redemption when we preach and teach. Even words like glory and sin may not be clear to those who have not grown up in the church. Other Christians avoid sharing their faith because they feel inadequate to explain religion and believe they should leave these conversations for pastors. Jesus never used the word justification or atonement. He just told stories about sowing seeds and letting our light shine.

I was leading an after school program for middle school students in the community. Around Christmas, I had a nativity scene set up. One of the students asked me what that was about. I was caught off guard. There are some things we assume everyone understands. I started talking about the shepherds and the star, and then he picked up one of the wisemen and said, “Is this God?” I realized that this student had no biblical background. I said a silent prayer and began to tell the story of Joseph and Mary. I shared Mary’s encounter with the angel and that she became pregnant with God’s son, Jesus. The boy rolled his eyes, and exclaimed, “And Joseph believed that story!”

Reflection: Are we able to share our personal faith stories with simple words and illustrations? If someone asked you who Jesus is, would you be able to share that in a way that was simple and understandable?

Prayer: Lord, enable us to share the story of your love in language that others can understand. You are always accessible to ordinary people. Let our words be simple, yet powerful expressions of your love. Amen.

Day 6                                      Be Loving—Imitate God                              Ephesians 5:1-2

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” NIV

The word “imitate” in Ephesians 5:1 is mimetes in the Greek, from which we also get our words: mime, imitation, and mimic. With no props or words, mime artists can convince you they are climbing a ladder, eating an apple, or other actions. Professional mime artists learn their moves by carefully observing and then copying exactly those actions. Jesus was the perfect mime of God. We are called to observe his actions carefully and do likewise, even offering our lives sacrificially.

I visited a friend who is well advanced in age, frail in body, and mostly confined to her home. Always active in service, she has been discouraged by her physical condition and asked, “What can I do now?” I reminded her that she can now devote her life to loving, which she is very gifted to do. Her words, her prayers, and her ability to make all who visit her feel loved is a holy service to God. When I leave my friend’s home, the fragrance of Jesus lingers in my spirit.

Reflection: How can you imitate God in the example of Jesus in your encounters with others? Do your non-verbal actions reflect your internal faith? How can you live a life of love, rather than just a life of busy?

Prayer: Lord, let me remember how dearly loved I am as your child. Enable me to live my life with integrity, expressing my faith through loving actions. Transform me into the image of Christ. Amen.

Day 7                          Be Praying—Be Ready to Tell Your Story             Colossians 4:2-6

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” NIV

In the intersections of the world, in our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our families, there are people who need to be invited to God’s banquet of abundant life. We scatter the seed of God’s love on everyone, shine our light into dark lives, and live a life of love. As we pray, we invite God to interrupt our lives with opportunities to share our God story and amazing things happen.

I missed my connection due to a mechanical problem with the plane and now had two hours to kill while I waited for the next flight. As I grumbled about this delay, I heard the song, “My Favorite Things” from the musical “The Sound of Music.” I laughed, as I wasn’t sure thinking of my favorite things would make everything better, but I prayed that God would use this delay for God’s purposes. Much later, I boarded the plane, and a young soldier in uniform sat down next to me. As we took off, he started singing, “My Favorite Things” quietly. All I wanted to do was sleep on this late flight home, but the Spirit’s alert was loud and clear. This was no coincidence. I took a chance and started a conversation with the young man. This led to a spiritual discussion about his life and a chance to share my God story.

Reflection: Have you prayed for opportunities to share your story? Are you willing to allow God to interrupt your life for a greater purpose?

Prayer: Lord, I pray that this day, you would use us for your purposes. Open our eyes to your divine appointments and give us the boldness to speak honestly in love. Amen.

Telling Your Story ~ Week 6 ~ Daily Devotional by Rev. Sherri Comer-Cox

Day 1              Shared Faith. Knock-knock. Who’s There?                      Luke 11:9

“So I say to you, ‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’” NRSV

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Luke.

Luke who?

Luke through the peep hole and find out.[1]

Knock, knock jokes are a familiar part of childhood. Just say the words “Knock, knock” and we automatically know what we are supposed to say next, “Who’s there?” The thing that makes knock-knock jokes work is not the “punny” punch line. It’s the “Who’s there?” Without someone to ask the question “Who’s there?” there is no joke.

As a shy, overweight, and awkward child, I was obsessed with knock-knock jokes. It was the one way I was sure that people were listening. So when I prayed I would begin, “Knock-knock, God.” In my young heart I knew God was listening because I said, “Knock-knock, God,” and I imagined God answering, “Who’s there?” As an adult my prayers have changed, however, there are still times I say, “Knock-knock, God.” Whenever I feel that my prayers are only making it to the ceiling, or I need assurance that God is listening, I begin my prayer, “Knock-knock, God.” Instead of imagining God answering, “Who’s there?” I imagine God saying, “Come in.”

Jesus said in Luke 11:9 that if we knock the door will be opened. When we pray we can have assurance that God is listening and invites us in.

Reflection: Have there been times when you felt that God did not hear your prayers? What did you do? How do you experience God hearing your prayers? Is there a story here that you can share with someone else who might have had that same experience?

Prayer: Knock, knock, God. I know you are listening and that you invite me in. Help me to search for you and hear you when you say, “Come in.” Amen.

Day 2                                      Wrestle with the Word                     2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” NRSV

As a seminary student I was challenged to “sift through Scripture.” Until going to seminary I thought I was supposed to read my Bible but not fret about the parts that were confusing to me. However, in seminary I had to wrestle with Scripture I did not understand. In wrestling with the Word I learned to read Scripture in context of who the first readers of Scripture were and through the lens of their cultural, economic, and geographical background. It was challenging, but prepared me as a pastor and a disciple of Christ.

In 2 Timothy, Paul tells us that all Scripture is inspired by God and useful for us. Even the parts we find confusing or challenging. The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is useful for every person in every country in whatever situation they are experiencing. Most of us have bought books that tell us how to diet, to invest our money, or succeed at something. I confess I have a stack of “How To Books” somewhere in my house. Although I own these books, they are useless unless I actually read them. Just like owning a diet book does not make a person skinny, owning a Bible does not equip us for every good work. We have to actually read, sift through, and wrestle with the Word because it is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Reflection: What is the biggest challenge for you in reading the Bible? What can you do to overcome it? What would you say to someone who says, “I don’t understand the Bible and when I read it I don’t get anything out of it?

Prayer: God of Word and Wonder, thank you for speaking to me through Scripture. Help me with the Scripture I find challenging and open my ears to hear you when I read and meditate on your Holy Word. Amen.

 

Day 3              ”Where Have You Seen God?”                   1 Corinthians 12:4-11

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” NRSV

As someone who loves to preach, I sometimes forget that there are those who have a fear of public speaking. So, when we began having a time of praise and testimony in our worship service I was disappointed that more people did not speak up when asked the question, “Where have you seen God in your life this week?” I was thrilled that some people would share their praise and joys but still felt a sense of frustration that more people did not share. When I shared my frustrations with a member of the worship team she set me straight. She asked me if I liked to cook. I answered with a swift and loud, “No!” “Why not?” she asked. I explained that cooking was a chore for me and I dreaded planning daily meals, grocery shopping, and cooking…I would rather… “Give a speech?” she asked. She then reminded me that some of the folks who did not speak up during the praise and testimony time of worship are the same folks who serve the church and Kingdom of God in humility and grace. Point taken.

God gives all of us gifts, talents, and strengths. Some people can share their testimony and joys with their voices. Others answer the question, “Where have you seen God?” through their service to others. The important thing to remember is it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, who receives the praise!

Reflection: What gifts and talents do you have that help you answer the question “Where have you seen God?”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for gifting me with everything I need to see you in my life. Help me to use the gifts that you have given me so that others might see you through me. I give you all the praise and glory for my life! In Christ’s name, Amen.

Day 4                                      I’m Just Sayin’                                              1 Peter 4:11

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” NRSV

There is a popular phrase that I hear or say oodles of times a day. I bet you have heard it or even said it, too. “I’m just sayin’.” It’s a funny little phrase that we use at the end of some sort of declaration. Sort of like, “That’s the way I see it, I’m just sayin’.” I started thinking about that pithy phrase a few days ago. It is easy to just say, but it is the doing that is a little more challenging. There is another phrase that I have heard, “All talk, no walk.”

In today’s Scripture passage, Peter lumps all the spiritual gifts into two categories: speaking and serving. These gifts are not to be used separately but together so people will know Jesus, and God will be glorified. In God’s infinite wisdom, God gifted some to speak and some to serve. What would the church look like if it was “all talk”? Whether we are speaking for God or serving God, the important thing to remember is that even though we provide the willingness to speak or serve, it is God who provides the strength. Peter also tells us that when we speak and serve, it should be for God’s glory, not ours. I’m just sayin’.

Reflection: Do you feel more comfortable speaking or serving? If you are more comfortable speaking, how can you use it in unison with serving? If you are more comfortable with serving, how can you use it in unison with speaking? Examining where we lead best can empower us to share our stories in new ways.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for a voice to speak and hands and feet to serve and I pray that you give me opportunities to glorify you. May everything I say and everything I do praise you! In the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Day 5                                      Selective Hearing                              Romans 10:14-18

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth and their words to the ends of the world.’” NRSV

A few years ago my husband and I noticed that we were having a communication problem. We were always saying, “You didn’t say that” or “You didn’t ask me to do that.” After a few weeks of this we realized that it was not what was being said, but what was being heard. This is a common condition in marriages that you may have also experienced; Selective Hearing. It can be extremely frustrating to tell someone something and realize that they have not heard a word you said. A friend of mine deals with this condition by beginning every important conversation with the word “football” because she knows that will get her husband’s attention. How many of us as youngsters acted like we did not hear our parents calling us because we wanted to avoid a punishment or some chore?

Sometimes this is our response to God. We hear only what we want to hear. Jesus used the phrase, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear”[2] eight times in Scripture to get people’s attention. We use selective hearing with God because we do not want to do what God’s Word tells us to do. After all, God’s Word may tell us to change the way we are doing something, forgive someone we don’t think should be forgiven, or go somewhere we don’t want to go. Selective hearing is a chancy thing when it comes to hearing God’s voice. If we are not listening to God’s voice when God asks us to do something difficult, we may not hear God speak love and grace to us, either. What would it look like when we pray to keep our hearts and ears tuned in to what God may say? Faith comes from hearing. As we listen for God’s voice in our lives, we should be ready to do what God calls us to do, even if it means speaking love and grace to someone who has selective hearing.

Reflection: Do you think you have selective hearing with God? Has there been a time that you felt God telling you do something uncomfortable (such as sharing your testimony, feeding the hungry, or giving to the poor) and you ignored God? What was the source of your selective hearing?

Prayer: God, there are times I want to hear you and times I ignore you when you call. Please help me to listen with my heart and my ears when you speak, and give me the strength to do what you say. Amen.

 

Day 6                                      The Golden Rule                               Matthew 7:12

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” NRSV

This little Bible verse, the Golden Rule, is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. It’s a simple concept; treat others the way you want to be treated. Many of us try to keep the Golden Rule, but at times it is difficult. If you have ever driven on the beltway into Washington D.C. during rush hour, you know what I mean! We think of the Golden Rule as a way of showing kindness to our fellow human beings. But is that all there is to it? A dear friend showed me another way to live the Golden Rule as a follower of Christ. “What is the best thing anyone has ever done for you?” she asked. “The best thing anyone ever did for me was to tell me about Jesus” I answered. I continued, “It’s the best thing Christians can do for others.” “Then as disciples of Christ who obey the Golden Rule and do to others as we would have them do to us, why aren’t more Christians sharing the Good News?” Her understanding of the Golden Rule humbled me.

If you have experienced God’s forgiveness and saving grace, you understand what an amazing gift it is. I am so grateful to the woman who cared enough to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with me. As Christians obeying and living the Golden Rule, we have a motivation to share the Good News with others. One of the best things we can do to others, as we would have them do to us, is share the saving grace of Jesus Christ and proclaim the Good News!

Reflection: Who told you about Jesus? How are you going to live the Golden Rule and in everything do to others as you would have them do unto you?

Prayer: God, sometimes it is difficult to treat others the way I want to be treated. Help me live the Golden Rule and tell others about Jesus, just as someone shared the Good News with me. In Christ Jesus, Amen.

 

Day 7                          All Things to All People                   1 Corinthians 9:19-23

“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people; that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” NRSV

In my life before becoming a United Methodist pastor, I was a preschool teacher and I loved teaching the children in my care. One of the main things I learned as a preschool teacher is that I had to speak on their level. Most of the time that meant getting on my knees so I could also be on their eye level. My voice and language changed when I spoke to the children. I adapted myself to the children’s world. I used words like “doggie” or “poopie.” I also learned about the things that the children liked. To this day I can still sing most of the Barney and Sesame Street songs! Using child-like words and learning to sing silly songs did not change who I was, but it did help me identify with the children and it helped them to trust me.

I think this is what Paul was telling us in today’s Scripture. When witnessing, Paul adapted himself to the situation in order to share the Gospel in a way that could be understood by those listening to the message. Paul crossed cultural, religious, political, and economic barriers to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Although Paul was flexible in his methods, he never compromised his faith. When we share the Good News of Christ we must remember the lesson from Paul. The way we present the message may change in order to speak to a particular group of people, but the message does not change. In order to reach every person everywhere, we need to learn how to become all things to all people without compromising the message so that people will be saved. As we do this for the sake of the Gospel, we will share in the blessings of God’s grace!

Reflection: How do you identify with people who are different than you? What can you do to help you identify with others for the sake of the sharing the Good News of Christ?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your saving work on the cross. When Paul walked the earth, he became all things to all people in order that “some might be saved” by sharing the good news of Jesus.[3] Help me to be like Paul so I can be all things to all people in order to save some. In Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] http://www.funology.com.

[2] Mark 4:23, NIV.

[3] 1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV.

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.

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

talk-about-it

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.