Still Giving – and Standing Firm

Luke 21

Luke 21_28

Yesterday our devotion centered on the Christmas story – as presented in Luke chapter 20.  Today takes us into Luke 21 which begins with a few verses concerning giving gifts. How fitting.  But here it is a slightly different type of gift which Jesus is referring to.   “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4).   Giving to God’s work is indeed a great place to give your gifts – whether you are blessed with a lot to give or very little to give.  God sees the heart and is delighted in the heart that joyfully gives all to Him.

The rest of this chapter is devoted to the future – including some rather troubling events: earthquakes, wars, famine, and hatred, prison and persecution as a result of believing and  testifying about Jesus.  But hope is given.  Jesus says he is telling us these things so that we will know what must take place before the end will come.  A hard day of dirty work is always made easier by knowing it will not continue forever.  At the end there will be a time to enjoy the rewards of working hard.   So too, those who are faithful through the end times can look forward to reaping the reward when the Son of Man comes again.

Jesus says do not be afraid; rather, “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19).  Even while our neighbors are fainting from terror at the surrounding events, Jesus tells us to stand tall.  He says, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27,28). 

Keep Giving – and Stand Firm!

Marcia Railton


Jesus is Coming! Jesus is Coming!

Luke 19

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Jesus is Coming!  What preparations do we need to make before Jesus comes?  Climb a tree to get a good vantage point?  Put his money to work?  Spread your cloak on the road?  These were all mentioned in Luke 19 as ways people prepared for Jesus’ coming.

The wealthy, though short, tax collector Zacchaeus was curious about this Jesus who was coming into town.  Not wanting to miss out he climbed a tree to make sure he could see Jesus.

In the Parable of the Ten Minas, during the master’s absence most of the servants took what had been entrusted to them (a mina – about three months wages) and put it to work to earn more – and were rewarded for their work.

When the crowd heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem they gathered to pay him honor as they spread their cloaks in the road in front of the colt carrying Jesus.  And with loud voices they joyfully praised God for the miracles they had witnessed Jesus perform: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”. (Luke 19:38)

This greeting reminds me of the words spoken by the great company of the heavenly host about 33 years earlier when the angels were telling the shepherds of the birth of Christ.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14).

No doubt, today, Christmas Eve, many many preparations will be made – supposedly in preparation to celebrate the birth of a King.  In the midst of our busyness how will we actually prepare for Jesus?   What will we do and say and give and pray TODAY to celebrate his FIRST Coming in a way that will honor him?  Perhaps there will be some things that we decide we will NOT do, in order to better celebrate Jesus’ coming.

And, EVERY day – how will we prepare for his SECOND coming?

Will we take the time and effort to seek out Jesus as Zacchaeus did?  Will we joyfully accept his invitation to meet together and then find ourselves changed – repentant and obedient – because of the time we spend in his presence?

Will we take the talents, time, possessions and minas/money  we have been given and diligently be trustworthy in using them to prepare for the coming return of our Savior – spreading the word, growing the church, and caring for the lost?  Or will we be like the scared servant who just hid away the treasure that he was responsible for – and even what he had was taken from him?

Will we work at honoring Jesus, the Son of God who is indeed coming to be crowned king in a kingdom like no other.   Will we give of ourselves, not afraid to get our clothes a little dirty, not ashamed to speak boldly, not persuaded to keep quiet by the Pharisees in our midst?  For if we don’t speak – even the stones will tell of his greatness (Luke 19:40).

I pray we celebrate his first coming well while we wisely and diligently prepare for his even greater second coming!

Jesus is Coming!

Marcia Railton



The Power of Persistence

ask devo

Persistence is like the spraying surf or the whistling wind; it erodes away even the most hardened rock over time.  Battle-hardened generals, the most well-meaning of parents, the most demanding of bosses all will give into persistence.  Why?  Like the irritating gnat buzzing around our head, like an adjacent whistling hearing aid, like the canker sore lingering in our gums, we just want to settle the annoyance so our attention is no longer divided.

Luke 18 begins with Jesus telling a parable about a widow who most desperately was seeking justice, so she would seek out the king of her and tell of her request.  The king wasn’t a God-fearing man, or a man-fearing man for that matter, but he eventually gives into the never-ending nagging just to make it stop.  His exasperation becomes her blessing.  He did not even care about the woman, yet he fulfills her incessant request.  Jesus compares this to the matters of our own heart, and how we might constantly convey needs to our Father in prayer.  Jesus states, “Will he delay long over (our requests)? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” because he is a loving Father, who is loftier than any king, but is most desperately desires a relationship with the lowliest of men.

Nearing the end of the chapter, Jesus models his Father’s care for the determined.  A blind beggar recognizes the “King of Kings” is passing by, and recognizes his opportunity to be healed.  He is unrelenting in his pursuit.   He cries out “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!”  The crowd tells him to shut up – a nuisance such as this is not worth the time of Jesus.  Instead, the man cries louder, longer, and harder, emphatically declaring the Lord to have mercy on him.  Finally, he has the attention of Jesus, and he declares the desire of his heart: sight.  This time it is not an unkind king who yields to petition, but a truly benevolent one, acting on behalf of the Father, because this blind beggar has believed.

We serve a Father who does not hide in shifting shadows from petitioners, but makes it clear that He is ready, willing, and able to meet our every need if we would so choose to let him.  Not only this, he will also give us the desires of heart if we are attuned to His will and purpose; however, we fail to recognize that we must be faithful and persistent in our request. Now, I don’t think we can annoy God into submission, but there are more than a few faithful followers in the Bible who petition the Lord Almighty, and there is a change of course.  James Chapter 1, which I highly recommend you read alongside your assigned daily devotional, speaks of the great rewards awaiting those who do not surrender in their pursuit.

God is most certainly in control.  He is also a gracious and loving heavenly Father.   He is awaiting your appeal and ready to meet the desires of your heart – yes, even those, that are locked away, wrapped in doubt, and shouted down. Unashamedly shout them and ask in the name of the King, Jesus Christ, and He will hear your cry.

~Aaron Winner

One Thank You

Luke 17

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A simple, but important rule in my sixth-grade classroom is students must say “thank you” anytime they receive something from me.  It doesn’t matter if that something is homework, a reward, a present, or even a consequence, the expectation is always that I am thanked.  Why?  There are a few reasons.  First, when you thank someone you acknowledge you are receiving something.  Second, when you thank someone you acknowledge they are the giver of that something.  Finally, when you thank someone you are showing that you have considered and accepted that something.  Conversely, if I am not thanked, I must assume my students do not value the item, the giver, or its intention.  Now, I am not naive enough to believe every eleven-year-old that says “thank you” has gone through this thought process.  They may simply be well-mannered (or well-rehearsed).  Maybe they know it is a rule and do it to avoid a negative consequence (which they would have to say “thank you” for anyways).  They simply may do it because everyone else is doing it.

It can be hard to tell the authenticity of a thank you, but one pattern I have noticed is when someone is truly thankful, they will seek you out to tell you.  Such was the case of a student of mine who delivered a letter to me on Teacher Appreciation Week last year.  While the standard fare is a box of chocolates, a coffee mug, or a cleverly-punned present, she crafted an honest-to-goodness thank you card.  There were no generic references to how awesome I was, how my class was the best, or how funny I am (which all are true), but she acknowledged specific words I had written in her yearbook at the close of the prior school year. She stated those simple words had changed her attitude, and she wanted to let me know that she greatly appreciated the time I took to consider them, write them, and live them.  Favorite “appreciation” received to date.

In today’s reading, Luke 17, Jesus amid traveling from Galilee to Samaria is met by a lot of lepers.  They each want the same thing: to be healed.  Jesus obliges, and without much reference to how he did it, he simply states in verse 14, “Go and show yourself to the priest,” meaning they would now be known as the men who formerly had leprosy.  They were cleansed, restored, no more peril or pain. They could now enter the city gate, walk the street, and be with all those they had left behind.  In their excitement, nine men rush to show everyone how they had been healed.  A single soul stops; he turns to praise God and give thanks to Jesus for this wonderful blessing beyond measure.  Jesus is curious about the other nine, but tells the lone returner he was “healed because of his faith.”

So many times I have read this story and am left wondering, “Why did Jesus say this man was healed ‘because of his faith’? Were they not all healed?” The more I read over this passage, place it preceding Jesus’ next topic, the Kingdom of God, it begins to resonate what Jesus may be alluding to.  While this thankful leper was cured in the very same way as the other nine, he alone received the lasting healing and life that comes through the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ.  This thankful man’s healing was not physical transformation but an allegoric alignment of his spiritual salvation.

So where does this leave us?  Often, we are the nine.  We joyously jog back to the place we came – complacency or repetitive sin — because we know we are restored, we can enter the city gate, we can walk the streets, and we can be with those we have loved because Jesus has already paid the price for us to do so.  We may thank him because we are well-rehearsed to do so in prayer.  We may thank him because we fear what might happen if we don’t.  We may thank him because that is what everyone else is doing; however, the minute everyone else turns and runs, we are there following them instead of running to our Lord and Savior.  Take a moment to stop. STOP!  Turn around.  Run to Jesus (repent).  Praise God (for your blessing)!  Tell him what he has given to you, what He means to you, and how that is changing your life, not because that is something you do, but because that is something YOU do!  When we offer thanks to him in this way, we will know the eternal healing that comes through a thankful faith.

-Aaron Winner

The Master and Manager

Luke 16

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God and money?  Can a Christian have both? No. Yes. No? Yes? Hmm.

I am to sell all my worldly possession (Luke 18:22), but I am responsible for making sure the physical needs of widows and orphans are met (James 1:27).  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 19:24), but God richly blesses men with wealth who follow him (Prov. 10:22).  I am to store up my treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19), but I am told the wise man saves his riches for a rainy day (1 Cor. 16:12. Prov. 21:20).  On the surface of this topic, it would seem we have contradiction, but thankfully today’s reading might help us come to a clearer conclusion when we consider two powerful, but unequal masters: God and money.

In Luke 16 we are presented with a peculiar parable that shows the strength of the almighty dollar.  As the story opens, we are introduced to a dishonest manager who is in charge of accounting (a running theme) of debts for his master. He learns that his master soon will dismiss him, so as each debtor approaches the manager with their contracted commitment, he forgives a portion of their debt.  Being shrewd, he knows he will be the receiver of their thanks, although it was neither his debt to forgive nor his portion to take.  Jesus makes no misgiving that he was speaking specific directly to the Pharisees, who were fundamentally dealing in the same way.  These “managers” of God put literal prices on forgiveness and offerings, ensuring their comfort, but cheating God of glory, praise, adoration, honor, or extending grace himself.  They, like the shrewd manager, traded their merciful Master for passing provision.

In Dale Carnegie’s famous work, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he states “It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” This is a challenging thought that calls us to contentment, but also in context of this specific parable, helps us increase our focus.  Are you the master or the manager of your wealth? time? health? will? Are they yours to divide, take, or utilize as you please? Who receives honor, praise, and recognition when you offer these things freely to others?  Sometimes we are as shrewd as the Pharisees, thinking a possession, a place, or a position is the source of a joyful life.  They make us feel momentarily like the master, but really, they take us away from our true purpose.

Jesus concludes this parable by saying if we cannot be trusted with the small things, why would God ever give us the BIG things. If we cannot rely upon him for our own daily bread why would he ever ensure we are the steward for the needs of others?  If we are faithful to Him, we are entrusted with more of His bidding, not in direct correlation, but determined by the master (See: “Parable of the Talents”).  Yes, this can include money.  Yes, this can include more time on earth.  BUT GLORY, HALLELUJAH, YES, he is talking about the KINGDOM.

So, can you have God and money? Yes. Can you serve two masters? No.  Will God give you more if you are faithful? Yes.  Is it money? Not necessarily, but IT IS the Master’s wealth beyond measure for His faithful managers.

-Aaron Winner

The Parable of the Lost Ring

Luke 15

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It was the beginning of a Louisiana winter when I lost my wedding ring just a couple years into my marriage.  It was a beautiful white gold ring with an inscription of our anniversary on the inside of the band.  It was a perfect reminder of my covenant in every way; however, its faults were it was a little loose when my hands were cold, and of course, it had me for an owner.  My friends and I were readying to play a football game on a Sunday afternoon and I was warming up by tossing the ball with a friend.  In a bit of foreshadowing for the events of the day, my ring slipped off as I caught the ball.  I picked it up off the ground, remarked how cold it was that afternoon, thought about placing my ring inside my pocket but thought it might fall out if it was there.  I put the ring back on my finger, only to lose it at some point in the next couple of hours of our pick-up game.

As we finished playing, my heart immediately sank when I realized it was gone.  I felt a cold sweat build on my forehead, my gut churned, and I held back tears, disappointed that I had lost something so precious.  My friends helped me look for almost an hour without success.  In the muddy, mushy, marshy Louisiana ground, I could see the imprints of our shoes and feet, I could see heaps of crawdad holes, but none of us saw the silvery reflection of my ring buried within the mire and muck.

In Luke Chapter 15, Jesus tells a series of three parables with a similar subject of a possession that has gone missing. In “The Parable of the Lost Sheep”, the master realizes that one of his flock is missing, and leaves behind 99 others to search for the lost one.  In the “Parable of the Lost Coin”, a woman takes account (to tie to our theme from yesterday) to realize she has misplaced a day’s earnings and does the equivalent of turning up couch cushion, investigating under the bed, and sweeping every nook and cranny to uncover it.  In “The Parable of the Lost Son” a father turns his son loose with an inheritance, but is actively looking for his return.  In addition to the same topic, each story ends in a similar resolution: what has been lost has become found and there is great rejoicing.

For me, there are two great takeaways as I ponder the collective meaning of these parables.  The first: to be lost, you have already belonged.  It is true that we each must find the Master in order to be saved, but He is the one who never stops searching.  Our Lord desires that not even a single sheep goes astray and is left without the safety of the shepherd (2 Peter 3:9).  Additionally, my thoughts turn to the Book of Life.  In Revelation 3, we are presented an image that our names are not written into the Book at the transition from “lost” to “saved”, but have already received a place there and are blotted out at the end of a life that is not found in Christ.  We are always His, but like the lost son, we make the decision to be found.

The second takeaway is the wonderful rejoicing that occurs when we turn our lives over and are indeed found.  There is a literal fiesta in the firmament to celebrate our Savior’s joy that we are alive again. No longer do we share the fleeting moments of a mortal life with our Father, but have the hope of an eternity of His presence, living with Him in His kingdom, our intended inheritance instead of passing pleasures. We, too, should echo the heavens and revel in each return.

Unfortunately, the resolution to my own parable of the ring isn’t as joyous as our Jesus’.  I searched for the ring for weeks, beseeched friends I know with metal detectors, offered rewards, but none of these measures ensured the retrieval of my wedding band.  I resigned my search, and my ring is forever lost in the loose Louisiana earth.  Maybe, as I like to imagine, it is the crowning jewel at the bottom at some crawdad family’s hole. With this being said, I can’t help but be thankful that my God has called me his treasure and that he never stops searching for me.  He finds me in my wandering, revealing and moving His will and His way through His words, waiting for my silhouette to again darken the horizon when I have gone astray – a Father who never fails finding those who desire to be found in Him.

-Aaron Winner

Counting the Cost

Luke 14

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As an elementary-aged child I remember having a very heightened appreciation for money.  Countless times I would pull the “M” encyclopedia just to look at all the pictures of the bills greater than $10 (which I rarely saw as a child), historical coins, or currency from around the world.  I may not exactly have known the value of a dollar, but I did know that there were few and far between opportunities to have cash on hand to call my own and spend on whatever I would like. I relished each one of these experiences.

On one occasion, I remember walking down the aisles of Walmart with my newly acquired birthday money secured in my blue Mickey Mouse velcro wallet.  There was no need to check inside to see how much I had.  I had counted the money at least a dozen times in the preceding days.  I was so remarkably aware of money at this age, I not only knew that I would be paying the advertised price, but a tax on top of it, which I knew needed to be included  in the cost.  In my care, I made sure that I calculated all the money I needed for checkout, so I would never have to disappointedly walk an item back to its place on the shelf because I couldn’t afford it.

At the end of Luke 14, Jesus asks the large crowd to consider the cost of being a disciple.  A faithful following was created by his miracles and teachings, but not all of them grasped the significance of what he was truly saying.  Undoubtedly to the surprise of many standing there, Jesus makes the most radical declaration in verse 26 when he states, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”  I’m sure these words were followed by disapproval, murmurs, and shock.

Excuse me – HATE?  HATE my father and mother who I am to honor by God’s command? HATE my wife, who is to be called “blessed” and is my flesh? HATE my children who are my wealth and fortune? HATE my brothers and sisters with whom I share the same faith? HATE my very own body which should be treated as a temple?

It is alluded to us a few verses later that Jesus is not literally saying that we should hate the aforementioned family. Also, I don’t think that he is even saying that we should abhor them by comparison of love we have for him and His Father (this conclusion I come to by considering how God loves me as His own – I love others as children of God – the child of God = Jesus).  What Jesus is acknowledging is we must count the cost of following him.  We must be ready to account for every treasure, relationship, and ambition, and when it comes times to pick up our cross and drag it an uncomfortable direction, we are ready to abandon, sacrifice, drop, or pay up anything that isn’t the pursuit of him.  We open up our metaphorical velcro wallets, know the price – tax included – and hand over what has become so precious to us.  If we don’t – our fate will be much like the rich young ruler (Luke 18).  We look at the price, and not having glanced into our wallet for a time, simply think we have what it takes to afford our desire; however, we realize there is just a bit more that is taxed of us, so we walk away disappointed, knowing we can no longer afford our great treasure because we did not take it all into account.

So how much does the Kingdom of God cost?  Everything.  How much is it worth?  So much more.  Don’t be turned away in disappointment, but take stock and be ready by counting the cost.

-Aaron Winner