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Forgiveness is a Lovely Idea

May 22, 2015

“… forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col.3:13)

One of the most basic, but powerful teachings of our faith is simply this: God forgives. He cancels the debt owed to Him because of our sin. The power of the gospel lies in the fact that, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God removed, once and for all, the guilt and punishment for sin. Forever. And ever. Aren’t you thankful? But God didn’t stop right there. Instead, He goes on to command us to likewise forgive each other, as He has forgiven us. Dang. Now that is hard to do. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”

Forgiveness is a lovely idea . . . when we are in need of it. But it also is a command from God. And a crystal clear one at that. We must forgive others. Regardless of whether they deserve it. Having a hard time forgiving someone? Remember what Christ did for you. The search for forgiveness ends when you find Christ. You want to find a person who praises God with passion and zeal? Look for the one who grasps what it means to have their sins removed as far as the east is from the west.

Personal Application: As you think of forgiveness, is there a person who quickly comes to mind that you just can’t seem to forgive? Pray that God will serve you the grace and strength you need to obey His command to forgive.

Who do you need to forgive?

Devotional written by Clay Barton

Our View of God

May 21, 2015

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)

I’m convinced that our view of God is terribly lacking, off base and distorted from the truth. This is especially so in matters of sin and forgiveness. On the one hand, I often recast God as one who really doesn’t mean it when he says I shall/ shall not do something. I know his words are clear. But surely he doesn’t really expect me to obey, does he? And at the same time, I can just as easily view God as simply one who is constantly disappointed and angry with me. I let him down daily. I can’t imagine forgiving me for all of the times I failed him. There is no way he actually loves me like he says he does. Sound familiar?

Thankfully, God revealed his true self. My unreliable thoughts and feelings about who God really is must give way to this revelation. David tells us that God actually is a merciful God. His anger is real, but it is slow to come. In reality, he not only loves us, but his love never fails. And it never stops. Jesus demonstrated this love in that while we were yet sinners, he died for us. And, shortly before his last breath, do you remember what he said? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Now that is a true view of our good and perfect God!

Personal Application: Today, focus on how he describes his “abounding and steadfast love” for you and your family. Then thank him for forgiveness.

Why does it seem so hard to accept God’s forgiveness?

Devotional written by Clay Barton

No More Transmorphers!

May 20, 2015

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  -James 2:26

I (Stephen) used to work at a movie rental store (Blockbuster) in high school. For those of you not familiar, these stores dated back before Redbox when we had to walk in a store to rent something – back when the world was still Black & White and we all spoke in Old British accents. One Friday night, I was working there and a frustrated customer came in because she had rented the wrong movie. She wanted to rent Transformers, but instead had accidentally grabbed the box forTransmorphersTransmorphers looked like the same movie on the cover, but it was a cheap, low-budget ripoff that someone made with the same concept. It claimed to basically be the same thing, but once you watched it…you could tell it was nowhere near the same. The graphics looked like they were drawn with a colored pencil.

Some churchgoers are more like Transmorphers than Transformers. They claim to be the real deal, but when you sit down and watch their life you realize it’s not at all. It’s just the low-budget version. The only thing that truly validates our faith in Christ is if we live it out with our actions. We can claim to be a Christ follower all day long and even look like one with the outside cover. But we aren’t living out a holy life of love, we’re just the cheap rip off. A real Christ follower walks in loving grace towards the people around them. They are patient and understanding towards those with different worldviews. They are slow to judge and quick to show humility.

Walk the walk today!

 

Personal Application: What area of your life are you reflecting Christ the least? This may be the very area where your actions or thoughts need to change. If you truly want to live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), it should be blatantly obvious to others by your actions. Don’t just claim to be like Christ. Live like Christ!

 

Home Application: Ask your family how the people around them view them. Are they seen as authentic Christ followers or just imitations of one? Help them understand the difference.

 

What area of your life are you reflecting Christ the least right now?

 

Devotional written by Stephen

“I…(Pause)…Guess…I…Do?”

May 19, 2015

“At once they left their nets and followed him.” - Matthew 4:20

Imagine going to a wedding of a close friend of yours. You can’t wait to celebrate this momentous occasion with them as they step into the new exciting season of marriage. You pull out your baby blue tuxedo/polka dot summer dress, get your hair all done up, and roll out to the church. It’s a beautiful ceremony with tears all over the room. At the very end, the Pastor recites the vows and asks the bride, “Do you . . . ?” After he finishes reciting, she pauses, contemplates, half nods and says, “Hmm. Sure. I guess I could do that.” Moment ruined. Everyone in the room starts secretly freaking out, wondering if this gal is truly all-in on this relationship – or not. People start getting ready to oppose this sucker, worried this bride is just putting on a show. Yikes!

True obedience requires an immediate response. Hesitating at first isn’t absolute obedience. Hesitation shows doubt in what might happen. Immediate response shows complete trust in whatever might happen. If we truly want to be obedient to God, we must put our “yes” on the altar and be willing to dive in the moment we are called. Pausing, contemplating, weighing the options, then giving an answer isn’t exactly true obedience. It conveys that we aren’t really all-in.

True love and true obedience is responding yes before the question is even asked!

Personal Application: How do you respond when God calls you to something new? Are you an early adopter who says “yes” with complete confidence and excitement? Are you the skeptical kind that has to see the thing from every angle before making a decision? Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. The disciples were early adopters because they understood true obedience in Christ. The only way we can be all-in is by being early adopters as well!

Home Application: Talk to your family about how you make big decisions together. As a family, have you put your “yes” on the altar? Or is your obedience more conditional, based on comfort and security? This could be a really valuable conversation to have with them today.

How do you respond when you are called to something new?

Devotional written by Stephen

Sit! Shake! Roll Over!!!

May 18, 2015

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of Godovercomes the world.” -1 John 5:3-4

When I (Stephen) was in college, I adopted a Boston Terrier from a random family via Craig’s List (not sketchy at all). In the first few weeks of having Jasper, he struggled to listen to anything I said because he didn’t know me. He was probably wondering who in the world this random college dude with a headband was. Over time though, as he realized that I cared more and more for him, he naturally listened to me more and more too. Eventually, he recognized me as his master that was going to provide and take care of him, causing him to obey me out of trust for me. After a few months, Jasper and I were basically going on tour across the nation leading clinics on dog training from sea to shining sea (not really).

This is in many ways how our relationship with God can look like. As a new believer, it can be hard to obey Christ because we still don’t understand who he really is. Over time, as we realize that he is our master that we can trust, obedience becomes much more natural for us. What once was hard becomes easier because we trust God. Our level of obedience to God’s Word is in direct relationship with how much we trust him. If you truly trust God as your master who will always care and provide for you, obedience becomes second nature.

PS: Jasper is still alive and strong and now runs his own non-profit juggling company in Tennessee. (this is clearly a lie)

 

Personal Application: Seeing God as your master means trusting him in every area of your life. What area of your life do you struggle to trust God the most right now? This might be where you need an increase in faith (John 3:30). Ask God to help you see him as your master in every area of your life today, especially the area where you struggle.

 

Home Application: Ask your family that same question. This could open the door to a great spiritual conversation about trusting God and the areas of our life where we struggle to obey him.

 

What area of your life do you struggle to trust God the most right now?

 

Devotional written by Stephen

Janky ‘Coaster

May 15, 2015

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2

When I was in middle school (the glory years), my older brother and I went to one of those weekend carnivals that come to town for a few days. They always had a ring toss (scam), ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl and a bunch of other rides they take out of a semi truck the day before and assemble in about 40 minutes with a screwdriver by a 19-year-old fella getting minimum wage.

The ride we went on was called the Zipper. We basically got into a little cage that rocked up and down while we were swirled around up and down at the same time. When I got in the little prison-cell type cage, the Tennessee carny man told us to buckle in and hold the bars in front of us. “No matter what, ya gotta hold ‘dem bars, ya hear?!”  We obeyed. We were too afraid not to. That ride was one of the scariest 90 seconds of my life. I’m pretty sure I heard about 9 screws pop out while the thing projected me up and down through the Tennessee skies. But since we obeyed the carny’s instructions, we survived it. We cheated death.

God calls us to obey Him - not to make our lives more limited or boring but, rather, because He knows what’s best for us. He knows that if we obey His instructions, we’ll be living life exactly how He created it to be lived . . . similar to how holding those bars was exactly how the Zipper was meant to be ridden. I listened to the “creator” of the carnival ride, and his commands kept me safe. Sound familiar? (Hint: in this analogy, God is the creepy carny man.)

Personal Application: Obedience comes down to faith. How much do you trust that God will take care of you? The obvious, Christian answer is “a bunch, dude!” Yet our lack of faith is the thing that holds us back from obeying God even more. So, in other words, our level of obedience directly reflects our level of trust in God to take care of us.

Home Application: Ask that same question to your family. Challenge them to realize that the areas of their life where they are less obedient to God are a result of a lack of faith in His commands in that area.

How much do you trust that God will take care of you?

Devotional written by Stephen

You Alien, You!

May 14, 2015

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”1 Peter 2:11-12

Have you ever been to a city or country where they spoke a different language? Or just a different part of the country where you felt like a foreigner? (If not, just drive 3 hours east to Houston – feels like a different continent!) It may have been an uncomfortable feeling. You weren’t at home, so you naturally may have felt a little out of place. It may have been a little harder than normal to communicate and connect with the people around you because you weren’t from there. You were an outsider.

As Christ-followers, the Bible says that we are “foreigners” and “outsiders” in this world. This is just our temporary home until we spend eternity in Heaven. As a result, there are going to be times when you feel a little out of place as you try to build relationships with non-believers. This is normal, because to them you are a foreigner (spiritually). You have a different spiritual worldview. The way you approach life and relationships is drastically different than those who are outside of Christ.

Don’t be discouraged if you sometimes feel a little out of place in this world. It’s totally normal. In fact, Jesus reminds us of this often (John 15:18, John 17:16). He wants us to understand that this isn’t our home. It’s just our temporary dwelling while we live on mission. So, basically you’re an alien. No big deal!

Personal Application: In what ways do you sometimes find it hard to communicate with non-believers? Don’t let these things frustrate you. They may be areas of your life where you need to have increased grace and patience, in hopes of being a vessel of grace to others.

Home Application: Ask your family if there are any times when they feel discouraged or out of place (at work, at school, etc). If so, use this as an opportunity to encourage one another in knowing that Jesus probably felt out of place for most of His life.

What times or places do you feel out of place from those around you?

Devotional written by Stephen

What Do You Want Me To Do?

May 13, 2015

And Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Matthew 20:32

Jesus was on His way out of the city when two blind men shouted, ” Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”  The disciples saw this as an inconvenient interruption, but divine appointments usually come disguised. Most of us would have done the same thing that the disciples did in this case, and just kept walking. Because we have places to go and people to see, we would have missed the miracle that happened that day.

Jesus’ whole ministry was about serving others.  We, on the other hand, are often too busy with everyday activities to see the opportunities that God gives us to serve each other. We have become blind men and women in this day and age; we go about our days only looking out for number one. Yet Christ left us a perfect example of what we should be doing.

I recall being in a prayer circle in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip when when someone asked me this question:  ”What do you want God to do for you?”  My answer was, ”I want Him to make me obedient to His will.”

I want more than anything to be obedient to His will, and with everything that He has given me. So, what does that look like? It means that I need to give everything that I have to Him and be faithful to what He has called me to do with all of my gifts and talents. I ask you the same question this morning, “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” I know most of you are going to say the same thing, to be obedient. If that is you this morning, let today be the start of when you say “yes” to Him.  Yes to everything that goes with being faithful servants and givers of our resources so that we can fulfill the great commission. When we hold back our “yes” to God, all we are doing is saying that we don’t trust God with everything–and I mean everything.

Personal Application: Do you view interruptions in your day as inconvenient? Stop today and take the time to really see and hear those around you. God has placed these disturbances in your life for a reason. See them.

Home Application: Discuss today with family/friends what obedience looks like. What is God asking you do? How can you be obedient to God?

What is it that you want Jesus to do for you?

Devotional written by Luis Holguin

Don’t Hide Your Talent

May 12, 2015

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  Matthew 25:29

I am sure if I were to ask everyone what a Frisbee is, everyone would answer that it’s a toy – and that’s correct.  That was easy, and you’re probably wondering, “but what does that have to do with the passages above?”  Well, quite a lot!  You see, I remember when I was on a mission trip to the island of Grenada in 2000, and I was playing with a Frisbee when an islander ask why I was playing with a plate.  I stopped and showed him what it was.  He looked at the Frisbee, and then he put it on his head.  I explained to him that you throw it, and someone else catches it. He didn’t understand.  That’s just like when our Lord Jesus would speak to the disciples in parables.  They didn’t always understand.

This morning’s verse is part of the parable of the talents.  Jesus told the story of the servants and the talents - how the rich master was going on a trip, and he called his servants in and he gave the first five talents, the second two talents, and the third one talent. The first servant took his talents and put them to work, the second did the same, but third one took his money and hid it.  When the master came back, he called his servants in and ask them what they had done with the talents he gave them.  The first one explained that he took what he was given, put it to work, and it earned five more. The second one said the same thing and now had four. The master was very pleased with the two servants, and he turned to the third one and asked, “How about you? What did you do with the money I gave you?”   The third servant said, “Master, I knew that you were a hard man, so I took it and hid it in the ground so that it would be safe.  See, here it is.”  The master was very angry. “You wicked and lazy servant.  You could have put it in the bank where it could have earned more.”  Then he took the one and gave it to the first servant who had ten.  In this parable, God is the master and you and I are His servants.  God gives us all a different amount of talents, but He wants us all to do the same thing with them–to be good and faithful servants of what He has given us.

Personal Application: We need to use what God has given us for His kingdom. Just like the man who invented the Frisbee to fly, God created us to be His servants.  Image how high we could fly if we just did what we are called to do with our talents.

Home Application: Spend some time in prayer asking God to reveal to you what talents He has given you.  Ask others what talents they see that God has given you.

How will you use the talents God has given you?

Devotional written by Luis Holguin

To Live Like Thee King

May 11, 2015

 

Philippians 2:5-7  Have this mind among yourself, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men

I remember when I was a little boy I would always look forward to my birthday to come around. I would always look to see what day of the week it fell on. Because if it fell on a week day at school they would give us a crown to wear and that would come with a lot of cool stuff like you would get to lead the class to library ,to P.E and come lunch time you would get to eat first. You would also help the teacher out with roll call, run papers up to the office and all the other kids would look up to you. I bet it would be really cool to be a king or a queen now right. Well think about it. What you would get to do now and all the things that come with being a king or queen. You would live in a palace and have lots of jewels, silver and gold you would also have a lot of servants that would get and do anything that you want or need.

This morning I want to tell you about The king who took off His crown and gave up his throne to become a servant. That King is Jesus Christ, He put aside his Godly nature and came to earth to be a servant. When Jesus was on earth he spent his entire life in service of others. He healed the sick, fed the hungry and was a friend to those who had no friends. Jesus never lived in a palace, he had no silver or gold, no jewels, the only crown he ever wore on earth was a crown of thorns. If I were to ask you if you want to be like Jesus most of you would say “YES” but that isn’t the question this morning. The question is this would you rather be a servant or a king, Jesus chose to be a servant and if we want to be like him we must make the same choice.

Personal Application: Serving others is a privilege. Seek your heart today and find your place of service. Pray, and Go!

Home Application: Living like a king is nice. Living like a servant is sweeter. Teach those around you what true service to our King is like, lead by example. Serve all those in your spear of influence and let it pour out to all.

Would you rather be a servant or a king?

Devotional written by Luis Holguin

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