Spiritual Connection Devotion – March 30th

Philippians 4:4-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Rejoice[a] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[b] Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God described in today’s scripture is one of the many blessings God promises his people who pray. 

It is important to remember that there is a difference between Christ’s inner peace and what we tend to label as “peace and quiet.”  Peace and quiet usually refer to a lack of noise and confusion around us.  Something that in the midst of our quarantine may seem more and more difficult to find.  

And many, when they think of inner midst carry a picture of someone in a yoga pose, or sitting and meditating for hours on end, or possibly someone who resides in a convent or similar setting.  But the truth is, you can have inner peace in the midst of noise and you can have outer “peace and quiet” without any semblance of inner peace.  

Paul’s kind of peace is a peace available to all, and it “transcends all understanding” which means that it comes from God.  It is not produced solely by our own efforts.  God’s peace guards our troubled hearts.  In Roman times guards were often chained to their prisoners.  Imagine yourself chained to God – or God chained to you because he loves you so much.  That is inner peace – the sure knowledge that God’s love is wrapped around us whatever the circumstances might be.  All that you need to possess this peace comes with a simple “fill me with your peace, Lord.”  Then follow up with these directions from Paul,

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Then sit back and allow that peace to flow through you.

Spiritual Connection Devotion – March 26th

The Voice of Truth

            This Lent has been eventful, hasn’t it? Four weeks ago when we started our Lenten journey, we began a series called “Jesus is…” Our prayer and hope were that by walking through some of the Gospel that John writes, we could have a deeper understanding of whom Jesus is and what this does for our lives. Little did any of us know that in the midst of this Lenten journey we would have to stop meeting together in person due to the need for social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Little did we know that our worlds would be changed and the concept of a new normal would be setting in. Little did we know that we would have a lot of fear and uncertainty in our lives. It’s so uncomfortable, isn’t it?

            Uncertainty is tough. I know that the biggest source of anxiety in my life is uncertainty. I don’t need to know everything to be comfortable, I just need to know most of it! Seriously though, I struggle driving if I don’t know the directions. I struggle to build things if I can’t imagine the end result. Uncertainty makes me worried about failures and disappointments, mostly my failing and disappointing others. 

            I don’t think my struggles with uncertainty are unique. I would imagine that a few of you all watching have the same struggle. Sure, we have different things we are concerned with, but we have concerns. We have concerns about paying bills, raising our children, improving the world, helping others, and so on. The uncertainty comes in regarding will I do enough, know enough, be enough, or help enough? Will I be good enough? Uncertainty sees, it’s a thing.

            Now, these days so much is uncertain. How long do we have to isolate ourselves? For some of us, we can adapt in many ways. I’ve started seeing clients for therapy over video. It’s not ideal, but it works. My wife, who is very busy this time of year, is able to work from home now. Even our kids are still learning through digital learning days. However, how long will this last? What will be the impact? Where is all the toilet paper? These are questions we have and unfortunately, we don’t have answers for them. And, we have no idea of when we’ll have these answers. 

            That brings me to a passage from John. I figured it would make sense to refer to the book we are sitting in during Lent. In John 10, Jesus says these words, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

            There are a few principles of certainty that I find in the words of Christ. First, I see that God has an intended way for us. He tells the Pharisees that when people try to enter God’s kingdom in unintended ways, they are thieves and robbers. I say this a lot on Sundays that God has an intended purpose for everyone. I believe that when God began creating the heavens and the earth, He had a dream of what your life could be like. In that dream is a way for you to make a difference in this world that helps make it more like the kingdom of God and less like a broken mess of thieves and robbers. The struggle is that the way to enter this purpose requires trust and faith. We have to have faith in the plan of God. We have to have faith in the provision of God. We have to have faith in the purpose of God. If we try to make life about our goals and desires and trying to fit God into that, we are robbing ourselves of the fullness of God’s design for our lives. If we try to fit God into what we want instead of entering His will, we are thieves. We are thieves that steal an eternal purpose. We steal the difference God wants us to make. We steal that opportunity to help change someone’s eternity. We steal that opportunity to change someone’s today. Whether we are like the Pharisees that tried to hold onto their own definitions of God and His Kingdom, or we are being typical people trying to hold onto control, I know for certain that unless I operate in God’s will, entering His purpose as He desires, I am a thief of the presence, power, and peace of God.

            The second principle I see in this passage is that we are designed to know and trust the voice of our Shepherd. One of the most popular and well-known verses in the Bible is Psalm 23:1 that says “The Lord is my shepherd.” And, I am made in the image of my shepherd. This means that deep inside of me there is a reflection of Him and an intimate knowledge of who He is. This knowledge is deep and sometimes beyond my understanding. When Jesus talks about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice and how this causes the sheep to follow Him, I am comforted that because of my creator’s passion for me, I have a life to follow that is better than my own. More than certainty, I desire purpose. I want to know what I am doing matters. I want to know that my struggles and mistakes can be redeemed for something eternal. I know that by following my shepherds’ voice, I am following a path that has meaning. Psalm 42 tells us that “deep calls to deep.” The Hebrew word for deep here is Tehovem, which references the primal deep of life. The Hebrew word for calls is kovre which means to call and proclaim. There is something in us that calls to our Creator, sometimes when we don’t even realize it. What gives us safety, peace, and hope is the return of the voice we cry out to that proclaims our purpose.

            That leads to my last point. In John 10:10 Jesus tells us that He came to give us life to the full. When we try to fit God’s plan into our desires, we do not have a life to the full. When we fail to recognize the voice that calls us, we are missing out and thus not full. However, when we follow the voice of our shepherd and creator, we are on the path to that full life. A full life where we can be free of the uncertainty of our eternal future. A full life where we can be free of the uncertainty of our significance. A full life where we can free of the uncertainty of Who is on the throne.

            So, as we face very uncertain times, may we all be strengthened by the words of Jesus, our Shepherd, who knows us and calls us. May we delight that even in our brokenness, He still calls us to follow. Even in our fragility, He traded His life for ours. Even when we think that the world will never be right or whole again, He is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So may Lent not just be a time that leads to Easter. May Lent be a time that leads into a fuller life and walk with God. Let’s pray.

            Heavenly Father, we don’t know why this is happening. We don’t know what the end of this will look like. When we hear voices trying to tell us all the truth, may we all seek you for truth. The truth of your plans for our lives. The truth for the promise of your salvation. The truth of your provision of protection and presence. And in this truth may we find the only thing louder than uncertainty, peace. Amen. 

Spiritual Connection Devotion – March 24th

 A Biblical Example of a Time of Waiting:

Acts 1:3-5, 12-14 New International Version (NIV)

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[a] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

  • Before Jesus ascended, He told the Disciples not to leave Jerusalem, to wait…
    • Didn’t know for how long…(no liturgical calendar)
    • Not forced to ‘social distance,’ but probably would have been glad to – their waiting conditions and setting would have been a lot worse than ours:
      • 120 people, hot, stinky, many mouths to feed, no toilet paper…

Matt Skinner:  The first significant act of the apostles occurs when they hike back to Jerusalem . . . and wait. Yet the interval makes an essential point about how God will interact with these people. Presumably, the Holy Spirit could have come immediately after Jesus’ ascension, but God waits. Instead, God has Jesus’ followers remain. They begin to become a community that knows what it’s like to wait on the Lord.

The waiting has an active quality to it, going beyond merely sitting around and contemplating the past and future. The apostles wait secluded in a “room upstairs,” where they are “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” along with others who followed Jesus, both men, and women.

Living like this requires just as much courage as if Jesus had told them to go out immediately and change the world using their brains and muscles. They wait, not because they see it as their only option, but because they expect big things to come from God–situations in which they will be privileged to play essential roles.

Time of waiting was significant for Disciples; it wasn’t squandered:

  • They Learned to wait on God (let’s do the same now)
  • They learned to expect big things – that there was MORE that God had for them, and they wanted what God had available (let’s do the same now)
  • They demonstrated obedience – did what Jesus said to do; they were surrendered (let’s do the same now)
  • Devoted themselves to the hard work of prayer (let’s do the same now)
  • And let’s count our blessings as we ‘wait’ – we have HVAC, running water, the ability to connect through technology, most of us are getting to wait with people we love, we have food…and water…and TP
  • AND we are living post-Pentecost, which means, we already have the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, comforts us, and helps us to know the Lord is near
  • “Social Distancing does not equate to Spiritual Distancing.”

Disciples used that time in the Upper Room wisely; let’s use this time wisely to wait on the Lord, be obedient, prayerful, and to be attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit

Spiritual Connection Devotion – March 23rd

The reason Paul can say that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is that Christ is alive and is still loving us now. He is at the right hand of God and is, therefore, ruling for us. And he is interceding for us, which means he is seeing to it that his finished work of redemption does in fact save us hour by hour and bring us safe to eternal joy. His love is not a memory. It is a moment-by-moment action of the omnipotent, living Son of God, to bring us to everlasting joy. 

This love of Christ is effective in protecting us from separation, it is a particular love for his people — those who, according to  Romans 8:28, love God and are called according to his purpose. 

This is the love of  Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” It is Christ’s love for the church, his bride. Christ has a love for all, and he has a special, saving, preserving love for his bride. You know you are part of that bride if you trust Christ. Anyone — no exceptions — anyone who trusts Christ can say, I am part of his bride, his church, he called and chosen ones, the ones who verse 35 says are kept and protected forever no matter what. 

1. God’s great love for us is not diminished or terminated by our failures, shortcomings, or sins, because it goes back to God’s choice of us before the foundation of the world. 

As we’ve seen, in the context Paul roots our salvation in God’s loving choice of us according to His plan before He made the world (see also, Eph. 1:4-5). At a point in our lives, He called us according to His purpose to conform us to the image of His Son, so that He would have the preeminence (8:28-29). In fact, He loved us so much that He delivered up His own Son for us on the cross (8:32). Since God did all of this for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), His love for us is not conditioned on our worthiness or our performance. We can’t earn or deserve His love. Rather, it stems from His very nature, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8). 

Spiritual Connection Devotion – March 20th

Scripture: Numbers 11:4-23a; Quail From the Lord

4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.

10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”‘”

21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?

  • The Israelites grumbled and complained against Moses, saying, “If only…” With our current situation in the world, it would be easy to complain…’ if only the grocery stores weren’t overrun if only our kids could get back to school, if only we couldn’t go to the Church on Sunday…” Let’s strive to stay positive and bring our cares and concerns to the Lord, trusting in His goodness and provision.
  • Even Moses needed some help – he couldn’t do it all on his own. It’s OK to ask for help. We are called to help carry each other’s burdens. Today, someone may help carry yours. Next week, you may help carry someone else’s. Reach out if you need help!
  • To help Moses, God placed some of the power of the Spirit that had been given to Moses onto 70 leaders. The Holy Spirit empowers us to get through difficulties. The Holy Spirit also helps us to know the Lord is near.
  • God told Moses that he would provide quail for the people – so much so, it would be coming out of their nostrils! Moses questioned God. God replied, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” That was a rhetorical question. God’s arm is long, and His grace is sufficient; God’s hand be upon during these days.

“Social distancing doesn’t equate to spiritual distancing”; use this time to draw nearer to the Lord and God’s Word, and God will draw closer to you.

Be Encouraged Today,

Pastor Chris