You Are Not Alone

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I just returned from FUEL2018 “Mission” – a great event for youth which brought together students and staff from many states and Canada.  It was better than a week of vacation or band camp or soccer camp or working that good old summer job.    And what made it so powerful was our connection through God’s Word.

I enjoyed reminiscing about a missions trip I had taken with other staff members years ago – a trip in which our mission was to teach about God, His Word, His Son and His Coming Kingdom.  I enjoyed the worship music which helped us praise our Creator (which we read about in Genesis) and remember the sacrifice of His Son, our Savior (as recorded in the gospels).  The general session teachings, classes, workshops and family group times brought Godly men and women speaking God’s Word and how it had impacted them and those they knew.  They spoke wisdom from the Scriptures on who God is, what He desires from His children, who His Son is and how to grow a personal relationship with Him.

And, then we all went home.

Perhaps in some small way we can feel the emotional let-down of the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven and then asked themselves – what next?  They had been so close to God’s representative – his own Son – and now they were separated?  How would they continue learning, growing, acting in his name – without his bodily presence and audible words there to guide the way.

So, too, we can feel a little lost and let-down upon leaving such a spiritually pumped up place as FUEL.  But, remember, you are not alone!

Stick close to your Christian brothers and sisters and mentors.  Get into church this morning – and throughout the year!  Listen well to God’s Words through your pastor and SS teacher and worship leader and youth leader.  Ask questions, look for connections, serve the church body, talk to the lonely, encourage the weak, invite a friend, share what inspired you at FUEL, and then make an opportunity to meet up with some faithful followers sometime this week to encourage and strengthen one another.  In a section sometimes titled “Call to Persevere” the writer of Hebrews gives these directions: “ And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24,25).  Don’t try being a lone-ranger Christian.  You need the body of believers – and they need you!

And, just as you wouldn’t dream of not eating again until you were back on Manchester’s campus next July, don’t waste away from a lack of God’s Word!  Keep serving yourself daily portions of God’s Word – for this is your source of spiritual food and nourishment.  You are not going home alone when you are going home with God’s Word.  It is here He reveals himself, His love for you, His precious Son, His plan for the ages, His goals and dreams for you, and the Mission He has given you.  It is here he shares all truth and how to be wise against deception and evil.  You can not protect yourself from falling for false worldly Gods if you do not know the true God in His Word.  It is here you learn of His all-mighty power, holiness, wisdom, presence, mercy, forgiveness, as well as His fatherly (good) discipline when needed to help you stay where He wants to bless you.

This blog/email list of daily devotions is one way we want to encourage you to stay in God’s Word every day.  God’s Words are the Best Words.  Every week you will read daily devotions written by someone in our FUEL family who is passionate about God – and YOU – and wants to help keep you connected to Him through a deeper understanding of His Word.  Thank you to Aaron Winner who wrote during FUEL on the MISSION we have!  The week before I wrote on an overview of the Old Testament, so this week we will continue on with an overview of the New Testament.  So, come back tomorrow ready to jump into the gospels!  You can be thinking about . . . what do you most appreciate about Jesus?   What is your favorite miracle?  Favorite parable?  See you tomorrow!

You are Not Alone,

Marcia Railton

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Meeting the Mission

john 10 27

Throughout this week,  we have laid the groundwork that leads us from the call to the kingdom.  We considered how Jesus sought those who were seeking something better, and how those men recognized the call, the voice of their master (John 10:27).  Next, we considered how the heavens declare our salvation, and the continuing metaphor we have in the heavens declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19) and His salvation plan for mankind.  Knowing this, we applied this knowledge to God’s presence even in the darkest points in our lives – in the highest heavens he is there, but also in the deepest chasm (Psalm 139:8). His Spirit is promised and available to those who ask to receive it.  When we accept Jesus into our lives, we not only receive the Spirit of God, but also the weight of the cross – not our sin, which Jesus has paid for once and for all – but the daily responsibility to carry the name of the Lord with us wherever we go. Finally, we looked at how faith should be our great motivator.  It assures us when we don’t see God working the way we desire that he is working all things together for those who love him (Rom 8:28). The culmination of this hope comes when we arrive home. We will not be returning, but experiencing for the first time the place we have been called, where the light has been leading, where the Presence of God is close and real, where the cross paved a way for us, and the plan, having all who have believed and waited, rewarded together (Heb 11:39-40).

It is a beautiful story unfolding before us, but right now, we’re in the middle.  The part in between being called and being home. So where does our mission begin?  It begins with prayer. Prayer is our conversation with God, admonishing him, asking for repentance, lifting up concerns, and seeking his will.  Paul tells us that we should pray repetitively or without ceasing (2 Thes 5:17) constantly thanking Him, seeking His word, and listening for His voice.  It is the best way to align ourselves with his will for our lives. These are everyday acts of spiritual warriors, the same as someone who runs or lifts every day in preparation for a marathon.  In Acts 9, Saul is blinded when He sees Jesus Christ standing before him on the Road to Damascus, but it is Ananias, a man most likely practicing his faith in his hometown, that is called to a great mission.  Risking his life to go before the Christian persecutor, he speaks to him, ““Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” With these words, the course of Paul’s life and Christianity are forever changed.

For some of us, our mission will lead us to a foreign country, a great stage, or into a dramatic change of circumstance; however, we are all called to be faithful, seeking opportunities for God to use us as a vessel to speak peace and hope into the lives of those around us in the present; Many lives are lived, fearing God and keeping his commandments, in hometowns before neighbors, coworkers, or fellow students, a task that is can be ironically harder. We continually pray for those who are within our reach and influence, attuning ourselves to the will of God.  When we are faithful, we most assuredly will be ready for the harder things God calls us to as we will reach out and unabashedly share His Kingdom, leaving behind our ego, leaving behind our reputation, and even leaving behind our lives – in a moment or daily, knowing our mission is met.

-Aaron Winner

Thank you, Aaron for writing this week!  We did miss you at FUEL, but we are thankful for your continued commitment to God’s mission in your life.  Aaron recently shared his newest recorded song: How Great You Are.  Thank you for pointing us to the One who is Great!

Coming Home

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One of the most bittersweet moments after a long, fulfilling journey is coming home.   Over the course of the past several years, I have been to a handful of different countries and have had some of the most wonderful, unforgettable experiences.  I usually spend my flight home scrolling through pictures, journaling, retelling that trip’s running joke, and planning a return journey to the destination I’m leaving behind.  Nevertheless, no matter how far I stray away, I find a soothing pleasure in seeing that final turn that will steer me into my driveway, opening the door to take a breath of the familiar smell, and laying down on my bed with my head perfectly placed on my pillow.  As I close my eyes, I do not think how much I wish to be where I was, I only think that I am so happy to be home.

I know many of you reading this have the exact same experience with the place you call home; however, I know for others, your current home is far from a place you wish to return.  Returning home to you means refacing an unpleasant past, examining poor relationships, having greater opportunity to sin, dealing with loneliness, hiding from abuse, or a customized mixture of some/all of these things.  The contrast between where you were and where you are going back to is so remarkably different that you see no hope in returning. There is always hope in returning home.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  John 14:1-4

The reality is that all of us who believe are on a journey home, but it is possible none of us will make it there in this lifetime.  God is preparing a place for all of his children, those who believe in the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and know and live by saving grace that comes through faith.  Jesus Christ is preparing a place for us to lay our heads for eternity, and he will one day come back for us, fulfilling his promise. We do not look for a physical direction, or a spiritual ascent in the heavens, but look for the way, the truth, and the life Jesus speaks of as the restoration to the Father. Our desire is to be here on this earth, but it is not in its present state (1 John 2:15-17), but the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

No matter where we lay our heads or what situations befalls us, we have been given a way to where Jesus is calling.  One place is not more powerful than another. One experience is not higher than the other. By placing Jesus Christ as our heart, our hope stays with us, and is never in a location or circumstance.  Still, even our spiritual highs pale in comparison to what is promised for us in the place that is being prepared for us. In the Kingdom we will be in the presence of our Savior and our God. Where we arrived at the place prepared for and rest in the assurance of eternal life, none of us will desire to be where we were; we will only think we are happy to be home.

-Aaron Winner

Seeing Isn’t Believing

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One of the simplest examples of an optical illusion is the Hermann grid.  Black squares closely placed side by side with white space in between. Our brain, forever processing the input of our eyes, darkens the spaces around where our eyes are focused, creating dots between the corners of the squares that do not exist.  Even though I know the truth, my eyes are trying to tell me something different. There is an ongoing battle in my nervous system between what I know is the truth, and what I sense. Such is the ongoing battle with our faith — the confidence and assurance in things we know to be true, yet our senses may tell us otherwise.  With each next step that comes our way, we must give control to our senses or our heart. Faith or sight.

In the final chapter of Matthew, the culmination of our hope is made complete: Jesus arises from the grave.  Amen. Our example in life shows us the physical transformation that will occur when we are raised from the dead alongside all those who patiently await in the grave (Heb 11:39-40).  However, we are told that when the high priests hear the news of the resurrection, they quickly bribed the soldiers overseeing the grave and told them to spread the lie that Jesus had not really risen from the grave but was stolen in the middle of night.  Jesus sends word to his disciples to meet him in Galilee to see with their own eyes that he was indeed raised as he had promised. Yet at the moment they had Jesus Christ, the risen one, standing in front of them, some doubted (Matt 28:17). They had heard Jesus preach the gospel.  They heard him predict his resurrection. They watched him perform miracle after miracle. They even watched him raise people from the dead. Still, some of them were not convinced it was Jesus Christ. In this moment, seeing was not believing to them. Surely Jesus Christ was just some form of an optical illusion.

 

Like the disciples in this moment, I often wonder if the people I know who have reservations about faith would change their minds if they saw Jesus?  If they saw him heal, cast out demons, or calm the sea, would this be enough to change their tune? The conclusion I come to is, no, it didn’t and it won’t.  It did not change the hearts of the Pharisees who rebuked Jesus for healing on a sabbath. It did not change the hearts of nine lepers who walked away with the promise in hand of being healed.  It did not change the rich, young ruler heart to turn all his possession over for the promise of greater Kingdomly treasure. Even among the apostles, John’s account of the events after the resurrection of Jesus makes Thomas as the scapegoat disciple who doubted. It took literal touching the scars of Jesus to truly restore his faith.  Blessed are those who believe in their heart, not give in to their senses (John 20:29).

 

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

 

Finally, in that moment, believing or not, Jesus gives the commision to his apostles, and I believe, each one of us.  Whether or not we believe, we are still held to the standard of preaching, baptizing, and teaching the world the Good News. Jesus Christ forever changes the course of their lives because he is a risen Lord and Savior actively working within them and for them until their demise or he returned.  Something changed in the heart of the disciples who doubted from then to Pentecost. They did not believe the gospel because they saw Jesus; they believed because He was the Lord of their life and the gospel was true, speaking to each one in the words of God, His Son, and in all of creation. Each of these men traveled a different part of the world to share this hope, and most found a gruesome end to their life far from home as a martyr.

 

We don’t need to see Jesus to share this same zeal and spirit. We need only to nurture the seed that has been planted in our hearts, to carry his gospel wherever we go.  We must declare with our mouths that Jesus Christ is our Lord from whatever stage is set before us and to ask others to make a commitment to declare the same. There will be a day when faith is made sight; they will be one in the same.  Every tongue will confess what I already know is true. No optical illusions — trumpets will sound, the clouds will roll back to reveal the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and life as we knew it will be no more. Until that day comes, we desperately seek His will, we urgently share His news, and we excitedly await for the assured thing we do not yet see.

-Aaron Winner

The Weight of the Cross

Mark 8 34

The Via Dolorosa, or the “way of suffering”, is the path, according to tradition, that Jesus took to the cross on the day of his crucifixion.  His literal carrying of his cross most likely involved moving 100-300 pounds across a half mile stretch after being beaten to within an inch of his life.  This was an impossible journey that had Jesus incapable of bearing the burden, and his cross was (forcibly) taken up by Simon, the Cyrene (Matthew 27:32). Jesus carried the weight of the cross until there was nothing left in him; however, his path to Golgotha, to pay for the sins of all mankind, did not start at the Lion’s Gate on the day of his death, but it was an everyday consideration that was revealed to him by God.

 

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. – Mark 8:34-35

 

Jesus predicts his death moments/verses before, and knowing how his story would play out, he most likely thought of His own literal cross he would bear on a daily basis.  He uses it as our example for the daily battle to call ourselves his disciples. We must deny our hopes, our will, our thoughts, our opportunities, our deepest desires, and stand alongside him on the Via Dolorosa – the way of suffering – and follow him.  It is a hard, burdensome journey to put ourselves to death (1 Cor 15:31) and be crucified alongside him (Gal 2:20).

 

BUT the difference is Jesus no longer carries his cross.  He died once and for all and now lives so you can count yourself as one who will receive the same promise (Rom 6:10-11).  Just as Simon, the Cyrene, helped Jesus bear the burden of the physical cross, Jesus stands waiting to help us bear the things we cannot.  He makes our yoke easy, and our burdens light (Matt 11:30); he constantly is inching our cross towards the place he has prepared, not the Place of the Skull, when it seems we cannot journey no further. Without Him or God’s grace, it would be a crushing weight, and we would be doomed to fail.

 

We count our momentary sufferings as loss, because even in suffering we have Christ, and access to God, our Father.  Those who do not have him suffer alone, are crushed alone, and die alone. There is no hope from the crosses they choose to bear. They lead to a death without hope, eternal destruction and separation from the God who desperately loves them and allowed His son to suffer so that we might live.  Today, tomorrow, and every day that we have an inch of life or more, we must take up the cross and follow him, knowing He has and will bear the weight when we cannot.

-Aaron Winner

The God Hug

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Hugs convey so many emotions – there’s the “hey, I haven’t seen you in a while” hug, the “wish you well on your journey” hug, the “so sorry for your loss” hug, the “I’m so happy for you” hug, the “I can’t believe we just did that” hug, the “I love you anyways” hug, the “it’s great to be alive” hug, the “you must be having a bad day” hug, and “you look like you haven’t been hugged in a while” hug.  Putting your arms around another human being brings about some sort of connection we simply cannot attain on our own – I mean, have you ever tried to hug yourself (or are you trying now that you read that)? It just doesn’t work. Your mind knows that you cannot fulfill this need for embrace, connection, and sense of belonging on your own. The great irony of hugs is we often need them in the midst of the the most lonely and terrible things.  When we feel no one can know. When we feel no one understands. When we feel we are not worthy of love. When we are ashamed of what we become. When we are running away.

 

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” – I Chronicles 7:13-16

 

These words were spoken by God to Solomon concerning Israel after the consecration of the temple.  These people have a condition and a promise not unlike our own. When things get bad, where are we going to turn?  When we are lonely, scared, hurt, or struggling to understand, who will we seek? The thing is, we have someone who understands.  We have someone who calls us worthy. We have a proud Father. We have someone to run to in the middle of the deepest, darkest storms of our life. He is God Almighty, and his arms have been reaching towards you and I since the beginning of our existence, ready, waiting, watching, and listening.  Once He hugs, he does not let go because His name is forever written on our hearts, his newly establish temple.

 

There are two conditions to God’s hug.  The first is submission. The actual physical posture of a hug is one of the most vulnerable positions you can put yourself in.  Your arms and hands are no longer protecting your body. You are giving up the rationally safe position to experience greater joy. This same predicament comes with turning to God.  Giving up safety means airing out your junk to him and others. It means putting trust in His hands. We do not seek to know why the rain falls on the just, but we seek to know Him, that He is a Good Father, who is for us, not against us – this is what brings us joy when we don’t understand.  I know – IT IS SO HARD in the midst of famine, frustrations, and fury, but God is faithful to us, so we must seek and trust.

Additionally, the second condition is invitation.  God was invited into Solomon’s temple and He shows up big time (2 Chronicles 5:14).  That same invitation and power is available to us. Submitting to God’s will begins the removal of junk that crowds the space where His Spirit is to dwell, and His Spirit is our Comforter, our spiritual hugger, constantly filling and surrounding us with the presence of God.  It is available to us when the clouds are shut and when we celebrate the rain. Try this – actually physically verbalize this invitation and outstretch your arms – I know sounds weird. Submit. Invite. As you worship, as you pray, as you walk throughout your day. God presence is what follows, telling us that we are His children and we can cry out “Abba, Father, I need a hug!” because we are never left or forsaken by our Father.

-Aaron Winner

the Light wins

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Sitting in Sunday School, hearing the story of creation over and over again, I never wondered why light was the first creation of God.  While we might need a lamp to work through the evening, God certainly doesn’t (Psalm 139:12). What is even more curious is the Sun and stars are not created until Day 4.  Hmm. Before we quickly call this a contradiction, I think skipping ahead to the end of our story tells more about the beginning – “There will be no more night in the city, and they will have no need for the light of a lamp or of the sun. For the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5  What does this scripture tell us?  1. That light can exist without the stars, moon, or sun, and 2. God himself is the source of that light.

 

God, in his infinite wisdom and beautiful scripted metaphor, begins our story with darkness being turned into light and a distinction created between the two (Gen 1:5).  God’s physical light was created to overtake the darkness – just as Jesus, our Light, was created to over take our darkness, our sin. This metaphor runs even deeper. God’s light is His presence in the life of men, Jesus is called the Light because he is God’s fulfillment of that presence, we are called light because God can now live in us, and there will be no more darkness is His kingdom because there will be nothing to separate us from the light of God.  It still goes deeper. Even now the physical lights God has ordained, the sun (Psalm 50:1), stars (Genesis 26), and moon (prophecy), are constantly testifying who He is and the calling on our lives. Are these universal symbols we see repeated in storytelling in all people and ages inspired by religion, or did God in his infinite wisdom inspire in us all a calling and connection much higher than we often acknowledge?

 

These thoughts are enough to contemplate for the rest of our lives, but light’s contrast, darkness, is a daily competing force in our lives.  We live in an imperfect age where darkness separates us from the fullness of relationship with God, on a global and personal level. The possibility of war, famine, poverty, persecution, abandonment,  and destruction are the present realities, along with the many terrible things sin and its consequence brings into our lives. It does not take too long dwelling on these things to feel like be have been abandoned or forsaken by God, but the rising of the sun is the constant, every day reminder, that He has called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (2 Peter 2:9-10).  God’s Spirit does no longer hovers of the deep, dark waters of our soul, but now lives in us, constantly reminding of his love, mercy, and plan. We have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Word, than is bringing a light that leads the way back to God.

 

Crack open your blinds or curtain a little before you go to bed this week and let the sun’s piecing light wake you the following morning.  Let this physical awakening be a reminder of your calling, and be challenged on a daily basis to overtake the darkness. God is perfectly planning and restoring those who seek Him for something beyond this world.  It is true that darkness currently lingers, the Light wins.

-Aaron Winner