Be Bold with Truth and Love

Acts 4 19 (1)

Acts 4

Despite the change we see in the disciples, the Jewish religious leaders have stayed the same. They continue in the same disbelief they held when Jesus was with them. And because of that, here we see the first of many imprisonments the disciples will endure through the book of Acts. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to silence Jesus, they will try to continue to restrain his message from his followers. Yet the news of the resurrected Messiah continued to spread.

Despite imprisonments and persecution, the apostles speak out with a growing boldness. We see new converts believing from all neighboring areas. The church that we know, started here and had a passion for what is right and true.

I do not think they were intentionally looking to offend but they were also not afraid to tell the truth if it was offensive. I think today’s church has softened its stance on too many issues to avoid being offensive. There are somethings that we cannot waver from. One being found in our passage today “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Don’t be the one that rejects Jesus but further do not be the one that is ashamed of the truth either. Go and share the message of Jesus with love – not looking to offend but not wavering from truth if it could be offensive.

-John Wincapaw

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God’s Word in My Life

isaiah 55 11

                I grew up in the Church.  From the time I was a baby I’ve been in Church.  I’ve been taught the Bible my entire life.  As a preacher’s kid I sat and listened to my dad preach every Sunday.  I remember as a child sitting in Sunday School and being captivated by the flannel graph stories (look it up, it’s a real thing).  I would see the picture of the ark, and the different animals gathered 2×2 going into the ark.

                I still have my first Bible.  It was an illustrated children’s Bible, it had a zippered case.  I read the Bible stories and enjoyed looking at the pictures.  When I was six my mom taught me to say the 66 books of the Bible in order.  It made it much easier to follow along and look up verses.  I could also easily win the “sword drills” a kind of contest to see who could look up various verses the fastest.  I even learned to memorize some verses.  John 3:16, Psalm 23 and John 11:35 were some of my early favorites.  I like John 11:35 because at church camps they often had you quote a verse from memory as you were in the lunch line.  John 11:35 was the shortest and easiest verse in the whole Bible to memorize: “Jesus wept.”

                I was baptized when I was eleven and I began to take my Bible study more seriously.  I would read whole chapters and whole books of the Bible.  I became aware that not all people read the Bible exactly the same way.  The Church I attended came to certain conclusions about what the Bible said, and people of different denominations came to different conclusions.  Sometimes their conclusions didn’t make sense to me and I wondered why they didn’t see things the same way that my Church did.  I puzzled over this for many years.

                When I graduated from high school and began college my goal was to become a doctor.  I wanted to help people, and make a decent living.  Doctors checked off both those boxes.  But while I was in college I got a part time job working in a Christian bookstore.  I had some friendly discussions with my boss who was a Christian but from a different denomination.  As I shared with him what I believed he shocked me by saying that he didn’t think what I believed was right, and he wasn’t convinced that it was Christian.  Now I had a job on my hands.  To show from the Bible that what I believed was indeed Christian.  He and I spent the next year debating the Bible.  Literally, he would make a premise and give his defense.  I would read it, and write my response.  Then I would make a premise and give my defense, and he would read it and give his response.  Over the next year we traded hundreds of pages.  I found myself staying up late every night pouring through the Bible looking up verses (this was long before internet searches).  I was thinking about the Bible day and night.  So much so that I wasn’t really spending much time reading the class material at college.  Somehow economics, biology, philosophy, psychology and sociology just weren’t as interesting to me as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

                One night I realized that what I really enjoyed doing was studying the Bible.  Then I realized that if this was my passion then it didn’t make sense to study to become a doctor, I should study to become a pastor.  I made my decision to leave the university and to attend Bible College. (By the way, you don’t need to become a pastor in order to make the Bible central to your life.  We need good doctors, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, mothers and ditch diggers who immerse themselves in the Bible as well.)

                As I was getting ready to leave for  Bible college I said my goodbyes to my friends and co-workers.  After a year of studying and debating the Bible with me my boss said, “You haven’t convinced me to believe as you believe, but you have convinced me that what you believe is Christian.”  I felt I had achieved a small win.

                For more than 30 years I’ve been reading, meditating upon, teaching, preaching, writing about, and counseling others with the Bible.  It is the foundation of my whole life.  I’ve read small passages slowly and repetitively so they could sink deeply in (lectio divina).  I’ve read large portions quickly to see the grand sweep of God’s story.  I once read the entire Bible in a two week period of time.  (8 hours a day for 2 weeks and you can read it cover to cover).  It was amazing!

                Do I regret choosing to be a pastor instead of a doctor?  Well, I make less money as a pastor than I would have made as a doctor.  But I realize something very important.  Doctors are very important but they don’t have all the answers.  This came to light several years ago when I became a hospital chaplain.  One day I was called in to sit with a young mother  whose husband had been in a serious accident.  The doctors were trying to save his life.  She was in the waiting room with two small children hoping that he would survive.  I sat with her and prayed with her.  Eventually, two young doctors came into the waiting room.  They were residents,  which means they were young in their practice.  They stood before the woman and told her that they had done all that they could, unfortunately, they couldn’t save her husband.  They then looked at each other, and then looked at me and said, “We’ll leave you to talk with the chaplain” and they left the room.  I realized that this was what God had called me to be.  The one who people turn to when all else had failed and their world has fallen apart and not even the best of science and technology can fix it.  When all that humanity can do comes up short, we are left with God and God’s Word.  And that is by far the most powerful thing in all the world.  God’s Word Never Fails.  A passage of the Bible that has been important all my life comes from Isaiah 55.  God’s Word will accomplish what God desires.  May you immerse yourself in the only truth that can truly save.

Isaiah 55:6-13

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

J.Jeffrey Fletcher, MDiv, BTh, CSD,  Chaplain, Valley Health

Where’s the Truth?

John 17 17

 

Building off of what a very wise woman shared yesterday in this same FUEL Bible Reading blog, I would also like to focus on the truth of the Bible.

This is what I appreciate most about God’s word. We can trust that it is true.

Culture, morals and laws are always changing. Things that were once taboo, largely in part because of God’s word, are now celebrated. How can we know if those things should be accepted morally or not? God’s word.

Many scientists believe that the entire universe exists only because of an accident, billions of years ago, and that each one of us is a result of billions of small built-up accidents over the last several hundred million years. In other words, there is no purpose or thought behind our existence. How sad is that sentiment? How can we know how we were created and if we truly have a purpose? God’s word.

There are many today that say that once you are dead, that is the end of your existence, and thus, we have no hope for a better future. And there are any numbers of world-ending scenarios that exist as well. But how can we know what our future truly holds? God’s word.

Truth, in the secular world, is always changing, always “evolving.” What is “truth” for one person may not be “truth” for another. That should clearly reveal that at least one person’s “truth” is not truth at all. We obviously need to all have a standard of truth when it comes to such things as morality, our origin and purpose, and our future hope. Thanks be to God that He was so wise as to have others write down and keep for all time the truths of His word.

How can we know that scripture is true? Proverbs 119:160 says that all of God’s words are true. Jesus confirms that God’s word is true in John 17:17. And we can know that Jesus does indeed exist and that God’s word is indeed truth because it has stood up under historical scrutiny, it has correctly predicted hundreds of specific prophecies, and as Hebrews 4:12 says, “…sharper than any double-edged sword, [God’s word] penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow…”

As yesterday’s devotion pointed out, we need to constantly be in God’s word so that we KNOW the truth that it contains. This is both for our benefit, and for others that we can then share that truth with, as God’s word instructs us. I encourage you to begin and end each day in God’s word, so as to not be swayed by the untruths of this current age.

-Greg Landry

 

Today, we are pleased to have Greg Landry writing on the importance of God’s Word.  Greg and his wife Susan (who wrote yesterday) are active in many ministries.  Greg has a great passion for researching and teaching on the lies of evolution.  His website, https://onegodsixdays.com/, offers readers many opportunities to become better informed on this important topic, which has sadly become a great stumbling block for many young Christians.  Susan has a great blog (https://thesparrowshome.com/) with a good variety of content for faith, family, food, games and homeschool. She has also started a website called http://onelegacy.net/ where she works to provide resources for Biblical Unitarian homeschoolers, families and churches working to actively instill a Godly worldview in their children.  Greg and Susan are a delight as they love and apply God’s Word in their own lives – and help grow that love in others.

The Truth, the Full Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Psalm 119 162 163

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Let’s pray it will be a great year of growth as we strive to follow Him well, relying daily on the truth of His Word.  Today, we welcome Susan Landry with her words of truth, encouragement and challenge as we look to begin our Bible reading plan with Matthew 1 on Sunday, January 6!

 

One of my favorite things about Scripture is my reliance upon the fact that it is totally, completely, absolutely, supremely TRUE.  I’ve become convinced over the years that my feelings lie to me.  As I’ve come to this conclusion, I’ve also come to realize that when my feelings lie to me, the best way to combat that is to tell myself the truth.  This has kind of been my mantra for some time.

But it got challenged recently.

I was feeling discouraged and the thoughts that were running on repeat through my head wouldn’t quit.  I tried my usual weapon of pausing and assessing my feelings to see if I could find the lie and then find a truth to combat it with.  But what I kept coming back to was that what I was feeling discouraged about WAS true.  It was a fact, in fact.

And so I wallowed in my discouragement for a few days, feeling rather hopeless, before God placed a verse in my head…a verse that was also true.  A lightbulb went on as I saw that what had been running through my head was a HALF-truth, it was not the complete truth.

Psalm 119 18 43

I may have screwed up, but the full truth is that God can work with that.  He can bring something good out of it, even.  And because I know His word is true, I can trust that and have hope even when it doesn’t feel true.  My story doesn’t end with a half-truth…and neither does yours.

 

Friends, this is why it’s so important to be in God’s word regularly.  He can’t bring verses to mind if you haven’t read them.  You can’t know the full truth if you aren’t reading it.  I’m so excited to start this New Year of reading the Bible together!

The full truth:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

 

-Susan Landry

Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

Lessons from the Wilderness: Jesus

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #4: God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

god's word does.

This week, as we’ve been thinking about our wilderness wanderings, we’ve primarily looked through the lessons from the Old Testament. Today though, we’re going to turn to the New Testament to see an example of a wilderness experience that can teach us a lot about how to make sure this experience makes us and doesn’t break us.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights before he begins his ministry. This is a familiar story that shows the humanity of Jesus and how he can relate to us, but today, I want to focus on where Jesus was tempted. It says in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” In our time thinking about the wilderness, we’ve focused on the types of wilderness experiences we may have and how God’s faithful love can sustain us. As we look at Jesus’ experience, we can see how to survive and thrive in the wilderness.  

The first lesson we can glean from this passage is that sometimes, as is the case with the Israelites and Elijah, we are led into the wilderness by God. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. At this point, Jesus had not begun his ministry, so this time could have been for testing and strengthening Jesus’ faith and dependence on God so that we could learn from it. By asking ourselves during each wilderness experience “What can I learn from this? How can I grow?”, we can better face the times in wilderness with palms held open instead of allowing bitterness to grow in us.

The second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that God’s word is crucial for surviving in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus had to face physical hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He also was probably emotionally drained in this time as well. This may sound like a description of ourselves when we go through times in the wilderness. How often in these times where we are sad, lonely, depressed and drained – how often do we pause in these moments and stop the spiral of depression and wandering by saturating ourselves in God’s word? By looking at Jesus’ example, we can see how we can stop temptations in their tracks by responding with God’s word, more specifically by aligning our actions with God’s word.

The last lesson that I want us to focus on today is looking at when this wilderness experience took place. Though Jesus had not begun his ministry yet, in the previous chapter, he had just gotten baptized. All too often, we think that if we have committed our life to God that things will go well, that we’ll never have to experience trials or periods of suffering. But, we can look at Jesus’ life to see that this is simply not that case. Aside from Jesus’ experience on the cross, we can look at the beginning of his ministry as well to see that as these periods will happened to him, they will happen to us.

Jesus survived in the wilderness, and he thrived in the wilderness. I’m not sure what Jesus gained spiritually or emotionally in the wilderness, but I know what I can learn from his experience there. In the wilderness, Jesus was able to overcome temptation and suffering, including not only physical trials – but also spiritual trials – through God’s word. God’s word sustained Jesus and allowed this time to be a springboard into Jesus’ ministry instead of something that would have crippled his ministry. Now, we can look at this story and lessen the impact of what Jesus was able to do because Jesus was the son of God. But, Jesus was capable of growth and change, as seen in Luke 2:52. This is what makes him the perfect mediator for us. So, as we close this lesson today, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus as he readied his disciples for the trials they would face during the days leading up to the crucifixion: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus, we can conquer the world, including all our days of wilderness wanderings.

~ Cayce Fletcher

spurgeon quote

Lessons from the Wilderness: David

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #3: When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.

Psalm-51-Prayer.jpg

At the heart of our lessons from the Israelites and Elijah is a focus on trust. We need to trust that God knows best for us and will lead us in the right direction as the Israelites learned. And, we need to trust that God will provide and protect us according to his will like Elijah learned. Elijah, in our previous lesson, was not lead into a wilderness season by any failing on his part. Instead, the wilderness for him was because of circumstances outside of his control. By looking to God and remembering those past successes with God, he was able to overcome trying circumstances.

The wilderness story that we will look at today also concerns a man that could remember past successes with God. In his story, he had stood against giants, mad kings, had been through the wilderness once and overcame it. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). We see in the book of 1 Samuel David’s victories. He was blessed by God, and because of this blessing, he was able to overcome his enemies. The book of 2 Samuel then describes what happened to David after he overcame these things and became King of Israel. During the first 10 chapters, David is set on the throne and receives the Davidic covenant, where he is told that Jesus will come from his lineage. If David could have just stayed in these moments where his focus was on God, he would have dwelt securely in the land and set up his children to do the same.

Instead, we see David drifting down a path that led him to devastation in 2 Sam. 11. In this chapter, we see the story where David, without questioning his actions for how they would reflect God, sleeps with Bathsheba and sends her husband to her death. After this, David is told that he would lose the baby Bathsheba just bore and that his house would be destroyed. David’s actions here lead toward the hurt that he faced with his son Absalom in 2 Sam. 14-15. The first sin that we see in these chapter 11, lusting after Bathsheba, began the sin cycle that led David into a wilderness period that was a time of intense pain that David never really got over.

So how did David get to this point? During this time, he had stayed back at his palace idle instead of going with his armies to fight in the wars he wanted them to engage in. At this moment, his desires began to be misaligned from the desires of God. And from here, his actions lead him away from God.

We see some of David’s reactions in 2 Samuel as he mourns his son and repents of his sin. But, at this time, we don’t see his feelings about this time in the wilderness. In Psalm 38, a psalm written by David, we see the danger that comes from drifting too far from God. We see the desperation in David’s voice as he says, “There is no health in my body because of Your indignation; there is no strength in my bones because of my sin. For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:3-5). Because of David’s sin, he had to experience terrible pain, a trying wilderness experience. We can look back at the lessons of the Israelites to realize this time in the wilderness was for purification, but still, if David had aligned the desires of his heart with the desires and character of God, he could have saved himself from this pain.

ps. 51

The wilderness is not always caused by our sin, as we’ve seen. But, at times, it is. And during these times, we can look to David’s example to see how to overcome those moments in the wilderness that were caused by our sin. Psalm 38 is an example of a penitential psalm, that shows both David’s true repentance and his desire for God in his life. Psalm 51 is another example of David writing in repentance. He says, “Be gracious to me God, according to your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot away my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence. You are blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:1-4). In this psalm and the other psalms, we see how David takes responsibility for his sin and also recognized what is required from him if he sins. He needs to be purified with a new heart that reflects the desires of God to be placed within him. This is key to accomplishing what David asks God in v. 12: “Restore the Joy of Your salvation to me and give me a willing spirit.” When we are in a wilderness of cause by our sin, we may be tempted to harden our hearts in anger against God. But, that is the path that leads us away from God and further into the wilderness. When we truly repent, we can receive back the true joy that comes from the salvation of God. After we have made it through the wilderness, we can use this time to bring others back to God (v. 13). If you are in this time today, choose the right path and come back to God. It may be painful to soften your heart and feel the weight of your sin, but that we’ll lead you towards the true joy that comes from God.

~ Cayce Fletcher