Keep at It!

1 Corinthians 14-16

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Wednesday, June 21

 

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.      1 Corinthians 15:58

 

Do you ever wonder if what you are doing for the Lord is having any effect at all? Ever wonder if your efforts are having any impact, or if they really matter? Sometimes it might feel like we are just “spinning our wheels” doing things for the Lord because we are not seeing any noticeable difference.

 

What can happen is that we set our expectations as the sole metric for gauging whether we are being successful in our endeavors for the Lord. It is almost as if when we don’t see the fruit we are looking for, we conclude that we must not be doing a very good job. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

 

Back in chapter 3 of this letter, Paul described how he viewed himself as contributing to the spread of the gospel as one among many workers laboring for the Lord. He saw his labor as only one part of a system comprised of many other laborers, which all culminated in the advancement and increase of the gospel message as God caused the labor to bear fruit.

 

1 Corinthians 3:6-8

I planted, lApollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.

 

It wasn’t Paul’s personal effectiveness that mattered; it wasn’t how good he was at winning souls to the Lord, or building up and strengthening believers on his own effort alone. What mattered was how his efforts were part of a larger picture of the way the Lord is at work in what he has called each person to do in order to bring others to faith or to help them grow in their faith. And most times, one’s efforts do not produce visible fruit immediately but take time to cultivate and grow in a person’s heart. That is why Paul saw himself as part of a system where soil is prepared, seed is sown, and the earth is watered and then from that comes the growth of a seedling that must be nurtured further so that it can grow tall and strong and bear fruit.

 

Therefore, we must never discredit how important the work is we do for the Lord no matter how insignificant it might seem in our eyes. God has need of each of us, and he calls us to serve him in specific ways that are unique. But we have to remember that our labor is not the end-all-be-all. We might be performing the first stage of preparing the soil, or we might be watering a seed that was sown by someone else long before our time.

 

Paul declares that our labor in the Lord is not in vain because every act that we do in love and with humility and meekness is an act that the Lord can use to produce growth in that person that ultimately glorifies him. So don’t be quick to judge that what you do for the Lord is not working if you don’t see the results you think you should expect to see. Continue serving and giving and be proud to be a worker in God’s vineyard, knowing that your work all contributes to the Lord’s harvest and the glory of his kingdom.

 

-Jerry Wierwille

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.dailylifeverse.com/posts/2016/03/1-corinthians-15-58)

Suffering!

Romans 4-7

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Wednesday, June 14

I really don’t like tribulations but I do like what they produce in my life.  When I think about the hard times that I have been through, I see how God proved himself to me over and over again.  It is those times that have built my faith in an invisible God.

 

Romans 5:1-4

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

 

Looking back, the trials and tribulations that I have suffered were well worth it.  Of course, at the time, in the midst of the storm, I was filled with angst and anxiety.  What often helped me was prayer.  I know my limitations and how powerless I am but God has no limits and He intervenes on our behalf.  Now when I look back at those hard times, I don’t feel the sting of stress but I see the power of perseverance!  I persevered with prayer and God answered me.  Whatever the situation was, God helped me and my faith grew stronger and stronger each time.  This helped me to mature as a believer and it changed my character for the better.

 

I also see, as I reflect back, the strength I have gained from seeing God prove himself time and again, and knowing and believing that the promises He has made will come to pass. This is hope.  This hope is what helps us to push through the trials and not give up.  We have hope that God will hear our cry, incline His ear to our prayers, and touch our lives.  I am reminded of the section in James where it talks about joy in tribulation…what??  That can’t be right, can it?

 

James 1:2-4

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

I will be completely honest.  I am not there yet.  I do not view trials with joy, not even in the slightest.  I wish I could encounter a trial with a smile and look forward to what it will produce in me.  I only smile when it is over and some time has passed and then the joy part sets in.  So, I have some work to do and I am sure that I will have plenty of opportunities to get better at this.

 

This whole section of scripture we read today is also about faith…each trial and tribulation has strengthened my faith.  Even when my faith was shaken, I came out the other side stronger.  My brother John and his wife Grace, almost 9 years ago, found out they were expecting a baby.  We were so excited!  Early on in the pregnancy, they found out there were some complications, all was not right.  We quickly went from excited to shaken and scared.  This doesn’t happen to us, this could not be.

 

My mom, myself, and Grace decided that we would pray together every day until the baby was born.  We prayed and prayed and prayed.  I had never prayed so diligently before this.  We were certain God was going to perform a miracle.  Grace felt God was leading her to name the baby Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was born and we did not get the miracle we prayed for…in fact his condition was worse than we expected and he would continue to have more challenges as he grew.  This shook our faith and tore us up inside.  I won’t go through all the questions I hurled at God and the sorrow we felt but I will say, that through it all, God was with us.  Jeremiah may not be like everyone else, but he is a miracle and he has given our family such joy.  In the end, my faith is stronger because I know that we live in a broken world and that bad things happen…even to us.  But, then I think of this scripture:

 

Isaiah 35:6

Then the lame will leap like a deer,

And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.

For waters will break forth in the wilderness

And streams in the Arabah.

 

One day, all will be made right and we just need to have faith.  Faith to keep going, to tackle each trial with hope and perseverance and that will mold our character for the better.  Take some time to reflect on your life and your hard times.  What did they produce in you?  Do you have a stronger appreciation of the hope we have because of your trials?

This is Jeremiah.  He is full of joy, laughter, and kindness.  He is nonverbal, has low tone, and other issues but one day, when our Lord returns, he will run fast like the wind and talk up a storm.

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– Ruth Finnegan

(Photo Credit: http://www.godswordimages.com/wallpaper/hope/romans-5-3-5/)

Great Faith

Luke 7-9

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Wednesday, May 17

Great faith is not always defined as a noun. I feel like in church that we sometimes believe things with our minds more than we believe them with our actions. I would argue that Jesus thought the same about some of the people he was around when he was still on earth. Except maybe a few were different. Like this one case in Luke 7 involving a centurion.
The centurion knew that Jesus could help. He could have easily stayed in his home and made Jesus come into his house by sending a servant. But the centurion, a man of honor and high authority in the Roman ranks chose not to send a servant to act upon the faith he had in Jesus, and went himself because he knew he was not worthy of having him in his house. The centurion also assumed with faith that Jesus could heal from anywhere.
Where in our lives do we need faith like the centurion had? We as believers of Jesus and his works must rely on his power from heaven to heal us just like the centurion’s servant. We also must humble ourselves and realize we need Him.
-Jesse Allen
(Photo Credit: https://andrewkgabriel.com/2009/09/07/anxious-about-the-need-to-have-great-faith/)

Choose Your Battles

Mark 10-13

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Thursday, May 11

What are some of the things that make you mad and how do you react when you are upset?  Do you think Jesus ever got mad or expressed his anger?

We read in Mark 11 of a time where Jesus was anything but quiet and soft spoken. We see Him turning tables and running people out of the temple. This is not to say that we should go flipping tables and chasing people whenever we get upset, that is NOT what was happening here. Jesus reacted in this way not because someone disagreed with Him, in those instances He says to turn the other cheek. He reacted this way because these individuals had taken the temple of His Father and they were using it like a common marketplace. The things they were doing were a disgrace to the sanctuary of God. Jesus was angry with a righteous indignation. He was furious because the temple of God was being defiled!

Do you get more upset and react in a more dramatic way if someone speaks against you or against your God? Hopefully we are faster to defend our God rather than ourselves. We tend to be pretty quick to jump at small things, leaving the big things for someone else to handle. I think of David before He became king, he was willing to fight a giant because of what he had said about our God.

We must pick our battles. It isn’t easy to let someone talk about you or your family. It isn’t easy to let them bad mouth a friend. These things don’t matter as much in the end though. What truly matters is how we defend our faith, how we stand for our God. We MUST stand firm when it comes to the scripture, we MUST share our faith, and we MUST learn to choose our battles as Jesus did.

– Bill Dunn

 

(Photo Credit: 

http://www.thebricktestament.com/the_life_of_jesus/temple_tantrum/jn02_15b.html)

One Track Mind

Matthew 13-14

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Monday, May 1

I think it would have been an incredible experience to hear Jesus talk when he was here on earth.  His ministry did not last a real long time, but he did have the opportunity to talk to many people while he was here.  I think it is safe to assume that in his limited time teaching the multitudes, he focused on what was most important for them to know.  He often used parables to make the teaching more understandable.  In Matthew 13, Jesus shared 7 different parables with the people.  Let’s find out what he thought was important to share:

Parable of the Sower:  this was a parable about how different people respond when they hear the kingdom message.

Parable of Tares Among Wheat:  the kingdom of heaven was compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but the enemy also sowed tares in the same field.

Parable of the Mustard Seed:  the kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed.

Parable of the Leaven:  the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.

Parable of the Hidden Treasure:  the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.

Parable of the Costly Pearl:  the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.

Parable of a Dragnet:  the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind.

It is pretty plain to see what Jesus’ most important message was about.  He had a one track mind about the kingdom.  He would not stop talking about the kingdom.  He talked about the kingdom over and over and over and over; seven times in chapter 13 alone.  This same message is just as relevant today as it was then because the chance to live in the kingdom is still attainable today.  This has to be our number one message the same way as it was Jesus’ number one message.

A couple other incredible experiences would have been to see Jesus feeding the 5,000+ and Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.  I have questions about these events.  Did anyone actually see the bread multiply with their own eyes (that would have been cool)?  Did they cook the fish or just eat it raw?  Without television or movies, how did the disciples know about ghosts (they thought Jesus was a ghost when he was walking toward them on the water)?  Had they seen ghosts before?  Are ghosts real?  When Jesus walked on the water did he move up and down with the waves or was it more of a steady/smooth walk?  How did Jesus know that Peter lost faith when he started sinking?  Did Jesus actually know what was in Peter’s mind or did God know what was in Peter’s mind and Jesus then figured out what was happening when he saw him sinking?  Perhaps you did not have all of the same questions that I had, but thank you for reading this far.

The main lesson to learn from chapter 14 is about faith.  Peter was able to walk on water until his faith weakened and many people were healed when they had faith they would be healed when they touched Jesus’ cloak.  Another lesson to learn in chapter 14 is to not trust women who please you with their dancing, but I will let you read about that yourself.

-Rick McClain

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.alittleperspective.com/matthew-13-2016/)

Peace in Our Time

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Daniel 10-12

I am no expert on Biblical Prophecy, or on anything for that matter. So I’m not going to try to explain the prophecies in Daniel 10-12. Instead I want to share three things we can learn about God from Biblical Prophecy and three implications of those things for our own lives.

(1) Biblical Prophecy illustrates that God is not in time. This means that God is not bound by the same time constraints as we are. You and I can only deal with the present. We may have memories of the past and fantasies of the future, but we can see what is really happening only while it is actually taking place. God is not like this. He can see all of history at a glance; this is how He could reveal to people like Daniel the goings-on of the future.

(2) Because God is not in time He is the greatest of planners. The people we think of as planners (people like my wife) tend to have a focus on the future. This is why they plan—to be prepared for what is coming in the future. Since God can see the future He is able to plan things out in such a way as to generate best possible result. And because God loves us, those plans promote our welfare.

(3) Not only does God make plans, but those plans happen just as He promises. There are hundreds of prophecies throughout the Bible, some of which have already been fulfilled. Many of the prophecies in the Old Testament predicted that a Messiah would come. They foretold of the place of his birth, the characteristics that would define him, and the ultimate sacrifice he would have to make. When Jesus came, he was the embodiment of these promises—although many didn’t recognize this. When God makes a promise, you can bet your bottom dollar that He will come through.

(4) Because of God’s track record in promises department, we can trust that the prophecies in the Bible that haven’t yet happened will eventually happen. While it is very easy to lose trust in the empty promises of politicians, we can rest assured that God won’t let us down.

(5) Our trust in the promises of God should give us hope for the future. While the Bible does prophesy that in “the end” difficult and trying times will come, after that there will be no more pain, no more tears, and we will be with our God in His perfect Kingdom.

(6) What all this really means is that right now, in the time we are constrained to, we can live at peace. Despite the craziness of the world around us, however terrible and unbearable it may become, our hope can anchor us so that we can stand firm and live in serenity. So look at the promises God has made, see that He keeps them and that they are good, and live in peace, with hopeful expectation for the culmination of all the prophecies in the Bible.

– Joel Fletcher

How Daniel Sustained His Devotion (And How You Can Too)

Daniel 7-9

The same word has beep popping up each day in our last few devotions: devotion.  The reason for this is simple. Daniel was a man devoted to God. Each story we’ve read this week has clearly demonstrated this. 

In yesterday’s devotion I said that our devotion to God must remain constant despite the ever-changing world in which we live—just as Daniel’s did. Today I want to tell you how Daniel was able to sustain his devotion and how you can, too.

The word pray (and its derivatives) is found twelve times in the first nine chapters of Daniel. He prayed three times everyday. He was arrested and thrown into a lion’s den because he continued praying even though it was declared illegal. One of the most powerful prayers in all of scripture is recorded in Daniel Chapter 9—Daniel is its author. It is obvious that prayer was central in the life of this godly man. This is what enabled him to stay devoted to his God in midst of constant trials and changes. And a prayerful life is the key for us to maintain a devoted life today.

There are several reasons why prayer helps sustain devotion. The first reason is that it keeps us connected to God. The more you talk to someone (especially if you like them), the better the connection. On the other hand, if you don’t communicate, there will be little to no connection. This is case with God as well. Prayer—heartfelt prayer—creates connection, which leads to greater devotion.

A second reason is that prayer helps us understand the will of God. Prayer allows us (as much as possible) to get our minds aligned with God’s. The more we pray, the better we understand what God wants. His will is good, pleasing, and perfect. So when we understand God’s will (in all its goodness) it generates more devotion in us. In other words, we get a greater sense of how great God truly is and He becomes more alluring to us.

The last reason I’ll mention for why prayer helps us stay devoted is that it keeps us focused on what really matters. Our minds are truly amazing things, but they tend to get overcrowded—especially in the Information Age. We all carry smart phones, have personal computers, and own TVs. We are constantly taking in information—sometimes good and sometimes bad. I believe there has never been a harder time for individuals to stay focused than today. It is difficult to remain devoted when there are so many distractions. This is where prayer can help. When we put away our computers and smart phones and take time to talk to God, it clears the fog in our minds that prevents us from focusing on the one to whom we should be devoted.

Being devoted is not an easy thing. That is what makes Daniel so impressive. Only because of his prayer life was he able sustain such devotion to God. If we want to resemble Daniel in his devotion, we must strive to have a life filled with prayer. So go ahead, say a prayer.

– Joel Fletcher

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