The Weight of the Cross

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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

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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

Leave the Boat Behind

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Many of you who subscribe to this blog are currently on voyage towards your “Mission” or FUEL 2018.  Sadly, I have been left behind (electively) for the first time in almost 20 years, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to man the deck and steer the course for your inspiration from the scriptures.  My hope for those attending FUEL 2018 is to place a mark on your map, so you can begin navigating your day. Those of us not attending or those who don’t even know what FUEL is, I hope to remind you of the called Christian’s day-in-day-out commissioning that sets us on a life-saving and life-giving course, not only for ourselves, but for all who have set sail seeking the truth.

 

To provide some context for our key text today, Matthew 2-4 shows us the preparation of Jesus for His ministry and purpose.  He was born with distinction, baptized to be righteous, and tempted to be proven. He is now ready and worthy for his calling to share a game-changing gospel to both Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1-2).   He begins sharing this good news, specifically, looking for disciples to come follow Him. The events that unfold in Matthew 4:18-22 are shocking to most of us. Jesus calls a set of brothers to follow him, and they actually do it.  And then it immediately happens again. WHAT!? Now to be fair, we are not given a lot of context. It is possible the conversation with these fishermen was longer than “Come, and follow me and I will send you out to fish for people,” but keep in mind, this is before the miracles of Jesus — when he was baptized, tempted, and sharing the gospel like us.  If Jesus spoke any other words or had a reputation, it was regarding two things: repentance and the Kingdom of God (v.17).

 

Now, it has been said the two best days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat and day they get rid of it.  It would be disingenuous to say all boat owners feel this sentiment, but the majority do. Why? The infatuations and pleasures brought by owning a boat quickly are outweighed by the unforeseen investments, burdens, and maintenance.  Andrew, Peter, James, and John could very well have been content, but were undoubtedly ready to disembark because they were looking for something better. These four men left their nets, boats, and fathers and immediately followed Jesus. I know. You are scratching your head — “It doesn’t happen like this; people today don’t actually leave their stuff, work, or family behind to follow Jesus.” It actually does.  Quite a bit in the Bible, but as I have seen with my own eyes, quite a bit today WHEN there isn’t contentment with leaving people on sinking vessels.

 

We do not have to perform miracles to create this type of rapid response to the gospel, only share the message that removes the burdening responsibilities “owning” a boat. What is that message?  “Come, follow Him, ” in this many words or more, not merely left to a cryptic metaphor with our actions. Additionally, we must be ready to verbalize our answer to the hope we have, the faith that makes us live differently (1 Peter 3:15).  These words are our net, our bait, our way of setting the hook for conversation; otherwise, we are just fishermen, waiting for a fish to hop onto the shore (which is pretty ineffective). No matter what we catch, those who share our message and praise it, those who hate our message and curse it, or those who are seeking our message and find it, we are His fishers of men who continually cast our message of the Kingdom of God, seeking and searching for those who are ready to leave the boat behind.

-Aaron Winner

IN HIS WORD – The Prophets

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This week we are working our way through the Old Testament Bible divisions in order to get a clearer picture of God’s whole story unfolding.  I apologize for not getting it sent out every day as planned.  It’s been a full week getting ready for FUEL 2018!!   I can’t wait to see some of you very shortly!  But, for now – we will finish up our overview of the Old Testament Bible divisions.  5, 12, 5, 5, 12 comes in handy to remember the number of books in each division.

5 books of LAW – Beginnings…leading up to the Exodus, and the law

12 books of HISTORY – Israel’s history – into the Promised Land, kings, exile, and return

5 books of POETRY – Praising & trusting God, wisdom explained and other deep thoughts

5 books of MAJOR PROPHETS –  Speaking for God, even in difficult times

12 books of MINOR PROPHETS – Still speaking – Still important — but not as much written down .   (these books are just shorter than the major prophets)

So in this devotion we will take a look at the 17 books of prophecy.  Sometimes prophecy is understood as just foretelling the future.  These books do indeed do that.  But the whole definition of Prophet is larger than that – it is the act of someone speaking for – in this case – God Almighty.

Sometimes it is exciting speaking for God – especially when exciting things are coming.  It is exciting telling people that God is love and He sent His Son for our salvation and Jesus will come again to set up a Kingdom on Earth.  But, sometimes when God would have his prophets speak, there are some pretty big storm clouds rolling in – often because of the sinful disobedience of his people.  In many of these books of prophecy the chosen prophet has the job of warning the backsliding nation of destruction and exile coming their way because they did not repent and turn from their ungodly ways.  The prophet tells them the price that will be paid for their selfish and worldly decision.  AND – the prophet also often gets to tell what is beyond the storm clouds – what will happen to those who remain faithful or those who go through the exile – what blessings come after the storm.

In the New Testament Peter does a great job explaining the role of the prophet:  “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.   For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21).

So many times we think we want God to speak to us in an audible voice – if only we could hear what He wants us to do, we think.  And yet, we ignore what He has spoken through the prophets.  If you are ready to listen to God – open your Bible!  Here’s just a little bit about what you will find from God in the books of Prophecy.

 

5 Books of MAJOR PROPHETS

ISAIAH – A Coming Messiah Will Save from Sins

Called the 5th Gospel because it includes so much about the Coming Messiah – Jesus

JEREMIAH – God is Just and Must Punish Sin

Jeremiah (along with King Josiah) urged people to repent – he was persecuted under King Jehoiakim, then he witnessed fall of Jerusalem with King Zedekiah

LAMENTATIONS – Jeremiah Cries over Jerusalem’s Fall

The weeping prophet, Jeremiah, writes this poem as he watches Jerusalem be destroyed by the Babylonians – exactly as he had prophesied for God

EZEKIEL – Visions and Symbolism of a Sovereign God

Ezekiel was called to be a watchman – to warn of coming judgments, and then consolation – visions of the valley of dry bones

DANIEL –  Dare to be a Follower of God

Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego remain loyal to God while exiled in a foreign land – Final 6 chapters include “End Times” prophesies

 

12 Books of MINOR PROPHETS

HOSEA – God’s Undying Love and Faithfulness -Hosea marries Gomer the prostitute

JOEL – Plague of Locusts Warn of God’s Coming Judgment

AMOS – God’s Judgment on Injustice

OBADIAH – Edom will be Judged (only 21 verses)

JONAH – God’s Prophet Speaks to Ninevah – Eventually, after the help of a storm and great fish

MICAH – Idolatry and Injustice Will Bring Suffering

NAHUM – Ninevah Revisited

HABAKKUK – It’s Not Fair – But Have Faith – God Answers Habakkuk’s questions

ZEPHANIAH – Warnings and a Future Hope

HAGGAI – Put God’s Work First

ZECHARIAH – Rebuild and Get Ready for the Messiah

MALACHI – My Messenger

Many of the prophecies in these books have already come true – and some we can see taking shape today – and some are still in the future.  There are many prophecies in the Old Testament of a savior for the world – and a Coming Kingdom.  We can be sure this book (The whole Bible) is reliable and true and oh so worthy of our time, respect, study and love.  It is God speaking to you – and to me.  To love Him is to love His Words.   If you are ready to love God – get IN HIS WORD!

 

Marcia Railton

(Thank you for reading this week as we discussed the Old Testament.  This coming week we have the pleasure of having devotions with Aaron Winner on the theme for FUEL 2018 – MISSION.  After that, we will discuss an overview of the New Testament.  Stay in His Word!)

In His Word – with the Poets

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This week we are looking into the importance of God’s Word as well as some of the goodies we are rewarded with when we open the book.  First, we had an overview of the 5 books of Law.  Yesterday we considered the 12 books of History, so today we are up to the 5 books of Poetry.

When I was a school kid eating up my history classes, I was yawning during my poetry course.  And, I still haven’t matured enough to really enjoy a ‘good book of poetry’ whatever that means.  However, I truly love opening up my Bible to these inspired books of poetry.  So many times when I reach for my Bible – it is to the books of Poetry that I go, and I am not disappointed.

Often when reading the books of law and history you get the facts of the events.  And from there you can piece together the likely thoughts or emotions of the characters and what their relationship with God was like at the time.  But, in many of the books of poetry you get the poet’s raw emotion: disappointment, anger, depression, elation, thankfulness, etc… And, through it all – God is there.  Along with the poet’s emotion, you get to read of his personal testimony of God’s faithfulness.  Psalm 13 is one short example – it starts out with quite a bit of pain and anguish and questions for God – but it ends with a beautiful statement of God’s unfailing love and goodness.

I really appreciated Andrew Cheatwood’s devotions two weeks ago when he wrote candidly about his struggle with spiritual depression and the help he found in the Psalms.  I applaud his wisdom in looking to God’s Word.

Here’s a brief overview of the 5 books of Poetry

JOB – Suffering, But Still Trusting

Satan attacks Job.  He loses everything except his trust in God – and that is enough.  He prospers again, even more than before.

PSALMS – Jewish Songbook

Songs, prayers and praises to God in poetry.  The longest book of the Bible, mostly written by David.  Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible – all about the greatness of the Word of God

PROVERBS – Wisdom!

Wise King Solomon shares his wisdom on many matters: work, money, temptation, discipline, etc…These 31 chapters can be read one chapter a day every month and you will find yourself a wiser person.

ECCLESIASTES – Search for the Meaning of Life

Solomon found pleasures, riches, and fame don’t satisfy.  Instead, revere God, follow Him and let God be God

SONG OF SOLOMON – Love Songs

Poems by Solomon celebrating the beauty of married love, also called Song of Songs

 

Which is your favorite book of Poetry?  Go ahead – read some God-inspired poetry today!

Marcia Railton

In His Word – HIS-STORY

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History was always one of my favorite subjects in school.  So many stories, so many time periods, so many real characters who have lived through so many unique situations, and some who even grew through their experiences.  The things we can learn through a great history book are amazing.  And, just as amazing – the fact that through it ALL – there has been ONE God of this universe.  In every event everywhere and at every time – He has been there – and will be there.

 

And yet, there has been one special place, one special people that God has taken a very special interest in – and that is the land and people of Israel.  It is this history that was preserved for us and makes up the second division of the Old Testament – the 12 books of History – the history of God’s chosen people as a nation.

 

So much can still be learned today about God and mankind by reading these historical accounts.  Go ahead – pick a book and get a glimpse into His Story.

 

12 BOOKS OF OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY 

 

JOSHUA – The Lord Gives Victory in Canaan

Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land – Rahab is saved, walls of Jericho, sun stands still

JUDGES – Israel Led by Judges

Cycles of sin and rebellion – enemies surround – Israel calls out to God – God sends a judge to save – people repent and serve God, until….cycle repeats.  Some of the judges were Samson, Gideon, Deborah, and Ehud.

RUTH – Faithful Daughter-in-Law – and Faithful God

Ruth, a Moabite, is loyal to Naomi her Jewish mother-in-law and God takes care of them

I & II SAMUEL – Samuel Anoints Israel’s 1st & 2nd King

Hannah’s son Samuel raised by the priest Eli – He anoints Saul, then David as kings – we also meet Goliath, Jonathan, Bathsheba and Nathan

I & II KINGS – Israel Splits and is Captured

King Solomon, kingdom divides (Northern Israel, Southern Judah), many bad kings (like Ahab),  some good kings (like Josiah), and God’s prophets (like Elijah)

I & II CHRONICLES – Judah’s Kings – Repeated

Retelling of Judah’s history – Adam to King David to Jerusalem’s destruction to King Cyrus permitting Jews to return to rebuild Jerusalem

EZRA – Exiles Rebuild Temple

Returning Jews rebuild Jerusalem’s temple and Ezra teaches them how to seek God

NEHEMIAH – Rebuilding City Walls

Nehemiah leads the Jews as they rebuild the walls of Jerusalem through much opposition

ESTHER – Jewish Girl Becomes Queen and Saves Jews

Brave, beautiful Esther, Cousin Mordecai, King Xerxes, evil Haman, 3 days of prayer and fasting, Jews are saved, new national holiday

 

 

Read some HIS-STORY today – the best is in God’s Word!

Marcia Railton