Monthly Archives: July 2017

Judg. 8; Acts 12; Jer. 21; Mark 7

Are we guilty of taking freedom for granted?

“Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said… “The Lord has sent His angel and saved me!” Acts 12:11

Recently, while working in my office at the University, one of my students stopped by with a group of international students as part of a refugee outreach program. One of the students asked a question about a recent trip to Rwanda, and during my response, I said “Thank you, Jesus!” My words immediately triggered her to cowl, then look around to see if anyone had heard what I said, and finally start to back away from the group to separate herself from the rest of us. When I asked what was happening, she reluctantly said “How can you speak like that so openly… aren’t you afraid of what will happen to you?”

The look on my face said it all… how could 3 words cause such a reaction? And it really was just one word, wasn’t it? As Christians, we know that the word Jesus is the most powerful name there is, but to those who are persecuted for their belief in Jesus, that one word is also associated with harsh reality… persecution, and sometimes even DEATH! We are blessed with so many freedoms in this country… it often takes someone who has had those freedoms taken away, or never had them in the first place, for us to realize just how blessed we are as Americans.

Peter in Acts 12 clearly understood the loss of freedom in Herod’s prison, as all of us would under similar circumstances. But spiritual freedom, particularly in this country is one that is rarely discussed because it is assumed, but it represents one of the most powerful of all freedoms as it affects us now while on Earth, but more importantly, it determines our eternity! So many don’t understand the impact of this statement, muddling through life, worshiping whomever and however they please.

As was experienced by Peter in a physical sense, true spiritual freedom comes only from our Lord and Savior, and affects all other freedoms. Verse 11 revealed that even though Peter was in temporary physical bondage, he was spiritually free because he knew that Jesus had already saved him from sin. As a result, Peter’s soul was forever in a much better place than Herod and Peter’s captors, whose physical freedom did nothing to save their souls’ enslavement.

Peter’s physical freedom by God was amazing… but his spiritual freedom was the focus of even more wonder… for it is when, not if, our other freedoms in life are attacked, that our spiritual freedom, centered on our believe in Jesus, will sustain us here, on Earth, and in our eternal life.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the freedoms we enjoy as You are the authority on freedom. In the busyness of day, help us to remember that freedom is not free… in so many ways, the freedoms we experience have come with a heavy price, started with the death of Your Son. And finally, help us to focus on connection with You… only then can we make it through “one more day!” Amen

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Judges 7; Acts 11; Jeremiah 20; Mark 6

Sometimes the Lord allows circumstances so difficult and sparse, that life can feel desperate. These desperate times, when forced beyond myself and my own resources, allow me to see that it is the Lord’s Hand that has saved and still saves me. Through His Mighty Power and Outstretched Arm, the victory; the overcoming; the provision; are obtained. Life is more than dust and flesh. It is more than food and clothes for the body. And sometimes, it takes a desolate place to draw my heart to His.

Judges 7

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ ESV

Gideon worshiped and he obeyed. And the Lord prevailed and provided the victory.

In Mark 6, Jesus calls His disciples to a desolate place for rest and reprieve.

31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” ESV

And yet, while there, so much in demand, that ministry continues:

35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii[f] worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. ESV

Five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men. The Lord blesses the loaves and fishes so that there is more than enough. There are many areas in my life that are like the loaves and fishes. Can I give them to the Lord and watch Him multiply the provision? There are times when the steps and actions I take feel so small before that path that lays ahead and beyond me.  It is here that the Lord is calling me to faith. And this is His gift to me.

Lord, I ask You to clear my eyes. Remove the film of the flesh and the world so that I can see with eyes of faith. So that I, like Gideon and his three hundred, can blow my trumpet victorious and hold my torch high! So that I can see the work of Your Spirit like Peter, greater than what came before, a living flow for what is ahead. So that I can proclaim again and again that you take my loaves and fishes and you make them MORE THAN ENOUGH.  Help me to recognize You when You come walking on the water in my life. Forgive me, Lord. Renew my heart in You.

Rebecca (offerings.becca)

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Judges 6; Acts 10; Jeremiah 19; Mark 5

Sometimes I forget. Like Gideon, I keep my faith hidden and thresh my wheat in the wine press. Like Gideon, I tend to keep expectations low,  dreams limited and focus on getting by. Immediate disappointment is deferred that way, but in His Grace, God’s vision for life is higher than mine. My stale faith and prayers do not limit what God can do. To the contrary, time and time again, He delights in interrupting the normal.

Those interruptions are a gift to the person with the smallest of hopes. Consider the synagogue leader whose daughter is healed, the woman who dares to reach out in the crowd to discretely touch Jesus’s clothing, and the demoniac delivered from the Legion. But for those unable to cope with the fact that they are not in control and life as they know it has been irrevocably altered, the interruptions of God are unwelcome, if not terrifying. I am thinking of the  Gideon’s Midianite and Amalekite neighbors and later the  Gerasene swineherds.

God doesn’t allow me to stay stuck in the past. His ways break through conventions and rules to call me to the unexpected. I prayer that when He calls me to take the next risk, I will be quick to listen and obey as in the case of Cornelius and Peter. His grace enables me to let go of prejudices and old habits that may have served in the past, but will not work today.

Lord, do not allow me to cling to my ability to get it right. Let me hold tightly to the grace to which you have called me by name. Thank you for being my anchor and my hope. Your relentless pursuit of my soul never fails. It’s by the glorious, beautiful name of Jesus that I offer this prayer. Your sufficiency continues to amaze in ways never expected. Amen.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf has entered…” Hebrews 6:19-20.

Kathy

 

 

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Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4

As followers of Christ, we all have a conversion story. A story of before and after. A turning point. In Acts 9, Saul has a dramatic encounter with Christ. One moment he was headed to persecute Christ-followers, the next minute he is blinded and confronted by Christ himself.

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (NIV)

Ananias was sent to deliver a message of deliverance from God:

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands onSaul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (NIV)

I used to be envious of people who had a testimony that was as drastic as Paul’s. Perhaps they were enslaved to drugs but met Christ and immediately were free of their addiction. Or maybe they grew up with an alcoholic parent, and found healing when they met Christ as an adult. Some speak of walking an aisle when given an invitation.

I have come to realize, though, that my story, though not dramatic is no less miraculous. That even though my entry into the Kingdom was gentle and unceremonious, it was no less remarkable than Paul’s. Our story of conversion is part of a bigger story and plan. God’ welcomes us all equally. We all have a part to play. It’s what we do with it that matters.

15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealthand the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” Mark 4 15-20 NIV)

Though I grew up going to church, I didn’t really hear about having a personal relationship with Christ until I was in college and got involved with a campus ministry. Sadly, many of the people that were involved in that group are no longer walking with God. I don’t know why I am still pursuing God and they aren’t. I can’t imagine life without God – it would be a life without purpose. Looking back, my faith story may not have had a sensational beginning, but it has had it’s share of sensational moments – times of blessing, hard times that led to incredible growth, restorative encounters and answered prayers. I am thankful for my story.

What’s your story? Have you taken the time to write it down? How have you changed since you met Christ? What are some of the things God has taught you? What have been your struggles? Your triumphs? Stories are powerful. God wrote your own unique story just for you. Be ready to share it. You never know how your story might impact someone else someday.

Ann (gardenlady)

 

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Judges 4; Acts 8; Jeremiah 17; Mark 3

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve[a] that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus chose his first disciples and calls them to follow. That was over 2,000 years ago.  He is still calling disciples today.  That would include me.  What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?

First, we need to accept he is who he says he is. Jesus is the Son of God, part of the Trinity.  He came to earth in human form “to save the lost”.  The disciples walked with him, watched him, learned from him.  They got to know him intimately as he freely shared himself with them.  Have you ever noticed the more you are around someone, you tend to pick up some of their habits?  As a disciple, we see Jesus’ love for others, his kindness, and his compassion. He modeled it daily as we read in the Bible.  When we choose to know him personally and follow his example, we are his disciples.  We are learning his ways, following his teaching.  Then we share what he’s taught us with others. And they share the Good News with others, and so it has gone for generations.  The disciples gave up everything, including their lives, to follow Jesus. We are expected to do nothing less.

While I was reading through Acts 8, it talked about Philip. This Philip was not the same man as the Apostle chosen by Christ.  He is known as “Philip the Evangelizer” as I read in one text note.  He was a disciple of Christ chosen by The Twelve along with Stephen and others to care for the widows (Acts 6).  After the stoning of Stephen, the believers scrambled and Philip went to Samaria.

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

God had an assignment for Philip in Samaria. He directed him to a coach where a eunuch was reading a text from Isaiah about Jesus death.  Philip was able to explain about the prophecy of Jesus in the bible and share the good news of saving grace to him.  He was then able to baptize him and witness the Holy Spirit being given to this man.  The eunuch then went off rejoicing over what had happened to him.  It reminded me of a certain woman from Samaria who had an encounter with Jesus that changed her life and she couldn’t stop herself from sharing the good news.

As disciples we are given the opportunity to see changed lives because of Jesus. Just as our own lives have been changed by Him, we can share our testimony with others.  I have no doubt the eunuch did just that because of one disciple—Philip—who obeyed an angel of the Lord. When we are called, will we go?  Oh, I don’t want to miss what God has in store for me!

Lord, I am so very glad you said to me “come” and I did. You changed my life.  I am grateful for the opportunities you give me to share who you are with others.  Let us rejoice just as the eunuch in Acts did and just as I did the day I believed. May we be covered in your dust from following so closely.  Amen

Cindy (gardnlady)

 

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Judges 3; Acts 7; Jeremiah 16; Mark 2

There are days the tasks I face are things like cutting the grass, doing the laundry, preparing school lessons. There are days the tasks I face are way harder–standing up under scrutiny and judgment, making decisions I never imagined I’d have to, pushing through circumstances that could truly change my heart.

These are the nations that the Lord left in the land to test those Israelites who had not experienced the wars of Canaan. He did this to teach warfare to generations of Israelites who had no experience in battle. These are the nations: the Philistines (those living under the five Philistine rulers), all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the mountains of Lebanon from Mount Baal-hermon to Lebo-hamath. These people were left to test the Israelites—to see whether they would obey the commands the Lord had given to their ancestors through Moses. (Judges 3:1-4, NLT)

In the midst of a battle for my heart, my faith, my words, my actions (in sum, my life), I’m thankful that Jesus is my Savior, my light, my teacher. I look to these words about battles and testing, and I want to cling tightly to my God.

Lord, you are my strength and fortress,
    my refuge in the day of trouble!
Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
20 Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!”

21 The Lord says,
“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord. (Jeremiah 16:19-21, NLT)

Stephen recounts a history of God’s faithfulness and direction. Lord, don’t let me be so distracted by an enemy or a battle or a faulty perception that I forget all that you are and all that you have done.

You forgive.

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5, NLT)

You heal.

10 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” (Mark 2:10, NLT)

You lead.

14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:14, NLT)

You provide.

 27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Mark 2:27, NLT)

You make all things new.

22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22, NLT)

Courtney (66books365)

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Judges 2; Acts 6; Jeremiah 15; Mark 1

I read a book recently called, The Disciple of Joy.  A man obviously called by God to lead in ministry with almost 20,000 coming to Christ, being discipled and following the call of God through baptism.  Unfortunately he did not plan his leadership transition well and when he died, his family argued over the ministry and it fell completely apart.  Reminds me of what happened when Joshua died.

Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals;  and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.  They abandoned the Lord, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes. – Judges 2:11-13 NRSV

God seemed to have something in mind between the leadership of Peter and Paul.  He introduced Stephen for a very short time.  

What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit – Acts 6:5 NRSV

Stephen reminds me that leadership in the hands of God, even if it is brief, can catapult the gospel to the whole world – giving hope to those that hear – from a leader who is selfless and fearless.    

So why do bad things happen to good leaders – how could others follow God when Stephen was killed?  Amazing for me to see how many people in the Middle East have become Christians when they watch them die for their faith. That did not happen with Jeremiah and if there is one prophet I would not want to be – it would be Jeremiah.  At one point Jeremiah even doubted, just for a moment that God might be a liar because the pain of leadership would not go away.

Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?  Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. – Jeremiah 15:18  NRSV

So my leadership marks a particular question for me – how does God respond to me?  So I look to God to perform something in my life everyday.  I come like the leper…

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. – Mark 1:40-42 NRSV

Lord, may my life always be marked by repentance and a turning to You.  May I find my strength in Your joy, my hope in Your faithful promises and my forgiveness in Your grace.  You are the one that leads me and I pray that as I follow You, as close as I can, that others may see Your eyes in mine.

evanlaar

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