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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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

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!)

God Makes Persecution Serve His Mission

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Acts 8

  

After the stoning of Stephen not only is there immense sadness and persecution, but Saul is now on fire to destroy the church. Christians are scattered all over Samaria and Saul is literally hunting them down. Even when it seems all hope is lost, they do NOT stop preaching the word. God makes persecution serve His mission.

 

The lesson here is not just that God turns setbacks into triumphs, but rather, when we as a church become comfortable, don’t face adversity, and get used to feeling safe, we become stagnant. We need that constant push to keep us in motion.

Persecution can obviously have harmful effects on the church, but prosperity, if not properly checked, can create even more devastation. We are constantly praying for comfort and that’s okay, but maybe we shouldn’t be afraid to pray for God to move even if it leads to persecution.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

 

Grace Rodgers

Connected

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As a soldier, you would never storm the enemy by yourself. You need a team standing beside you to support you, uplift you, and challenge you.  Spiritual battles are the same; you cannot stand alone. There is always safety in numbers, as the enemy hunts for those who are outcast. Connection, both to each other and to God, is the best defense against the enemy.

Yesterday’s devotion was about how the people of the early church were persecuted, yet stood in boldness. They were able to stand so boldly because they stood together. In Acts chapter 2, we are given an inside look into just how connected the Church was:

“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” (Acts 2:42-47).

The early believers were an impenetrable front. They ate together, prayed together, performed miracles together, gave generously together, met in the temple together, and praised God together. The Church, being the people and not the building, is the Bride of Christ. If Jesus was so passionate about believers meeting together, I think we should be, too. The depth of this connection that we have with each other is ultimately dependent on the depth of our connection to God.

“The Kingdom of God is not going to be advanced by our churches becoming filled with men, but by men in our churches becoming filled with God.” –Duncan Campbell

Connection to our Creator is the first priority. Connection to God, like connection to the Church, doesn’t come without effort. Building a strong relationship takes time and an open line of communication, prayer. Your prayer life is the biggest factor of your connectedness with God, which then strengthens your connection to your fellow believers.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 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 10:23-25).

~Mackenzie McClain

The Christmas Story Continues

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Luke 23

Questioning Pilate

Curious Herod

Accusing chief priests

Mocking soldiers

Appealing Pilate

Shouting crowd

Desperate Pilate

Mad mob

Defeated Pilate

Fortunate Barabbas

Condemned Jesus

Cross-carrying Simon

Mourning women

Guilty criminals

Crucified three-some

Forgiving Messiah

Sneering rulers

Informative sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

Insulting felon

Compassionate criminal

Welcoming Jesus

Saved criminal

Darkened sky

Torn curtain

Committed spirit

Last breath

Amazed centurion

Dead righteous man

Seeing crowd

Generous Joseph

So much could be said and written about any one of these elements of Luke 23.  Much of Luke and the gospels – and even the Old Testament – point to this moment in history: the Crucifixion of the Son of God.  Which character do you identify with most today?  Which adjective describes you this year?  What do you find the most amazing?  How does this chapter of Jesus’ history add to the Christmas story of Luke 20 we discussed earlier this week?  In an effort to become more Christ-like, what characteristics do you see in this chapter that you want to work on this week?

Keep Reading and Growing

-Marcia Railton

Who is the Son of God?

 

Luke 22

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Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it.  And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution.  He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.

But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb.  And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin.  Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes.  Communion services are a great reminder of this promise.  At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant.  Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.

I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail.  And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,”  Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping.  I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?

Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal!  And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.

Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands.  Beware of what you expect from the Son of God.  Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!

-Marcia Railton