Archive for July, 2016

Time Alone With God daily devotionals


Time Alone With God daily devotionals

By Pastor Phil Stout

Read: Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21-35

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Start:
Consider: This parable speaks about the times when forgiveness is required for the big sins that have been perpetrated against us. The debt that the servant owed to his king was a debt so huge that he could never repay it. But in this parable Jesus also addresses the small sins that we must forgive and forget. The fellow servant owed his friend just a few bucks. It should not have been a big deal.

That’s pretty descriptive of our lives. While there are times when we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to forgive in heroic ways, most of the time we need to have the integrity, discipline and self-control (which also come from God’s Spirit) to forgive the small indignities of life.

So I think we need to see forgiveness as a lifestyle. That’s right, a lifestyle—part of the ebb and flow of everyday existence. Remember, Jesus said, “seventy times seven” (18:22).

I often say that if we’re going to be friends for any length of time, we’re going to have to forgive each other repeatedly. Most of the time we’ll need to forgive without being asked. We’ll need to overlook one another’s flaws, understand each other’s bad days, and give grace to each other when we struggle.

I think that’s part of the beauty of The Lord’s Prayer. It’s not a prayer that is intended to be prayed once in a lifetime. No, it outlines the manner in which we should pray every day. For just as we’re taught to pray for “daily bread” (6:11), we’re taught to pray for daily forgiveness and for grace to forgive every day.

What a great way to live!

Pray: “Lord, today is another day in which I will have the opportunity to be like you. You are the One who forgives. Give me the grace today to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Help me to forgive the small mistakes of others that complicate my day. Help me to learn how to forgive the great injustices I’ve endured. And teach me how to forgive myself.”

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

by Pastor Phil Stout

Read: Psalm 23:1-6

New International Version (NIV)

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Start:

 

Consider: Jesus said…

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

Be careful how you hear those words. Over the past two days we’ve looked at the performance trap—the danger of seeing our spiritual disciplines as vehicles to earn God’s favor. Because we so quickly fall into that way of thinking, it would be easy for us to hear “reward” in that manner. We are tempted to think that if we pray as Jesus instructed us to, he’ll reward us at a later time with some kind of blessing. In other words, “I perform, he rewards.” But I think that misses Jesus’ whole point.

Because the Pharisees saw religion in that quid pro quo manner, they got a flimsy reward—they impressed people and impressed themselves. Big deal. But Jesus’ “reward” is different. His reward is his presence. When I close the door and get alone with God, I receive the greatest thing that could possibly be given to me—the awareness of God’s presence.

Listen to what that means.

“I lack nothing…he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul…even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil…my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:1-5)

Could there be a greater reward?

Pray: Take some time to meditate on that great poem—Psalm 23. Get alone, sit or lie in a comfortable position, close your eyes and picture the “green pastures” and the “quiet waters.” Let him lead you there. Let him “restore” and “refresh” your soul. Picture yourself in those places of beauty with Christ by your side. That is the purpose of the poetry of the Bible. It is intended to help us see God in new ways and to understand our relationship with him beyond what we can grasp on an intellectual level.

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

By Pastor Phil Stout

Read: Matthew 6:5-6

Matthew 6:5-6

New International Version (NIV)

Prayer
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Start:

Consider: One of the great pitfalls that we are subject to on our journey with Christ is the performance trap. Even though we believe in God’s grace and we know that we don’t earn his favor, we are constantly tempted to measure our walk with him in terms of the things we accomplish. We’re tempted to see holiness as something we attain by doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things. In fact, Christians often ask each other, “How are you doing spiritually?”

This “doing” and “accomplishing” often invades our most intimate moments with God. We wonder if we’re spending enough time alone with God, if we are praying in a way that pleases him, if we are doing it correctly. We think our spiritual disciplines don’t measure up to those of other believers. We chastise ourselves for being too shallow. And, if we’re not careful, we sabotage all that he wants to do for us because we trying to do it ourselves.

This perfectionism—sometimes called “moralism”—is not what prayer is about. Prayer is practicing the presence of Christ in our lives. Prayer is living with an awareness of his presence and gratitude for his presence. Prayer was beautifully described when Paul said…

“…in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

So how do we escape the performance trap?

“…when you pray, go into your room, close the door…” (Matthew 6:6).

Close the door on false expectations. Close out the “relationship rules” you or others have placed on prayer. Stop making prayer something you do and accept it as the gift of his presence—the presence he gives, not something you attain.

The door is closed. No one is looking or judging. You are alone with the One who already accepted you. Nothing to earn. Nothing to prove. Enjoy your time alone with God.

Pray: Thank the Lord for inviting you into his life.

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

 

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

by Pastor Phil Stout

Read: Matthew 6:5-6

Matthew 6:5-6

New International Version (NIV)

Prayer
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Start:

Consider: Before Jesus’ instructed us on the manner in which we should approach the Father in prayer, he gave us a simple, beautiful piece of advice.

“…when you pray, go into your room, close the door…” (6:6).

I used to read this instruction simply in terms of the quiet space the closed door gives us. There’s so much noise in our world, so many things clamoring for our attention. The solitude of the closed door is an invitation to shut out the noise and give our full attention to communion with the Father.

Sometimes I can talk over the noise. But I can’t listen. The closed door quiets my heart to hear my Father speak his love into my life.

But Jesus’ had more in mind than simply a quiet time. In these initial words on prayer, he talked about those who practiced their religion in public—those who loved the practice of their faith “to be seen by others” (6:5). Don’t go there, he said, “do not be like the hypocrites” (6:5).

When we are worried about how others perceive our faith, we’re in murky waters. Whenever we become centered on perception, we neglect reality. I shouldn’t worry about how people perceive my relationship with Christ or I may destroy that very relationship.

Jesus wants us to be free. There is bondage in pretense. There is freedom in closing the door. We don’t have to perform. We get to enjoy the presence of the One who loves us more than we can imagine.

Pray: “Lord, today I close the door. As you help me to close out the noise and chaos of this world, help me also to close the door on false expectations of what it means to commune with you. Help me to simply enjoy the knowledge that you are with me right now.”

 

 

 

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Giving Only Our Daily Bread

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Giving Only Our Daily Bread

by Pastor Phil Stout

Proverbs 30:7-9
New International Version (NIV)

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

Start

Consider: I’ll have to admit, I can’t remember the last time I prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches” (30:8). I think all of us, in some manner, have asked God to keep us from falling into poverty. But I’m guessing very few of us have asked God to make sure we never get rich. (I mean, have you ever heard of someone buying a lottery ticket and praying that it wasn’t a winner?) But read the next line. It sounds very familiar.

“…but give me only my daily bread.” (30:8)

We call the Book of Proverbs part of the “Wisdom Literature” of the Old Testament. And the writer is truly giving us some wise counsel as we listen in on his conversation with God. He’s afraid that money will become an idol—that he will find his sufficiency in material wealth—and that when that happens he will “disown” God (30:9). That kind of person is described as asking a strange question—“Who is the Lord?” (30:9). It shows that there are other gods competing for his allegiance.

And so the wisdom writer decides that the best course of action is to simply pray for his “daily bread.” I believe God agrees with his wisdom, for God chose to give only enough manna for one day at a time, and Jesus taught us to pray with the same words—“Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
Holy is your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Do not worry

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Do not worry

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

by Pastor Phil Stout

Matthew 6:25-34New International Version (NIV)

Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Consider: Jesus said…

     “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…” (6:34)

A literal translation would read, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” or “have no anxiety about tomorrow.”

I know it’s not the best translation of this particular passage, but I just love the way it is rendered in the King James Version of the Bible…

     “Take therefore no thought for the morrow…”

Take no thought? Come on! Well, like I said, it’s probably not the most accurate way to translate it from the original language. But, you’ll have to admit, there’s a real beauty to it.

I know, I have to think about tomorrow. I’ve made appointments. There are schedules to keep. There are bills that will need to be paid. I have to show up for work ready to go. I have to prepare for tomorrow with adequate sleep and nutrition. But what I love about“take no thought for tomorrow” is the joy of that statement. When Jesus tells us to trust him, he’s not talking about a forced dependence or a begrudging dependence on him. He’s talking about a joyful dependence.

Yes, you and I are very responsible people. We’ve given thought for the tomorrows of our lives. But for now—for right now—could we just “take no thought for tomorrow”? Could we just bask in the presence of the One who has given us this moment?

Pray: “Lord, thank you for your presence in my life right now. Because I have you, I have everything I need. I don’t know what all I will need tomorrow. But for now—in this moment—my needs are met, for you are with me.”

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Do Not Worry

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Do Not Worry

The Lord’s Prayer

by Pastor Phil Stout

Matthew 6:25-34

New International Version (NIV)

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Start:

Consider: A few verses down from The Lord’s Prayer we find Jesus enlarging on that simple request…

     “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

He speaks about trust. He repeatedly tells us there is no need to worry (6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34). He assures us that our Heavenly Father is aware of our needs (6:32). And then he gives us a powerful tool.

How many times has someone said to you “Don’t worry,” as if that instruction alone will do the trick? Why, if it was as easy as simply deciding not to worry, you would have already done that. But the anxiety won’t leave and you’re plagued with “what ifs.” It almost angers you when someone glibly says, “Don’t worry about it!”

But there is nothing glib in Jesus’ instruction. He tells us how—through his power—to be at peace.

     “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (6:34)

In other words, Jesus is teaching us to live in the present moment. A few years ago I heard a professional talking about anxiety and depression. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know there are no simple answers to clinical depression. It is not a spiritual problem, but often a physiological and chemical problem which requires medication and therapy. But even for people suffering from severe anxiety and depression, this professional was encouraging them to learn to live in the moment—to find joy in the “right now.” He saw this as part of the answer to dealing with anxiety.

Jesus told us where we shouldn’t live. We shouldn’t live in the troubles of tomorrow (6:34). With simple trust, we ask the Father for what it is that we need right now (6:11) and we thank him for filling our right-now-needs.

Pray: “Lord, help me to live in the joy of the present moment. That joy comes from the knowledge that you are with me right now. May your presence be real to me throughout this day. And tomorrow…well, we’ll talk about that tomorrow.”

 

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Prayer

Daily Devotional:  Time Alone With God – Prayer

by Pastor Phil Stout

Matthew 6:5-11

New International Version (NIV)

Prayer
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.

Consider: One of the things that continually impacts us about The Lord’s Prayer is the simplicity of it. The phrases are short, the requests succinct. After all, Jesus had just told us not to “keep on babbling” in our prayers (6:7), thinking that there is more power to them if we multiply the words. No, just the opposite is true. There is beauty and power in simplicity.

And could there possibly be a simpler request when it comes to our needs? “This is how you should pray…”

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:9, 11)

That’s it? No begging? No deal making (“If you do this one thing for me, God, I promise I’ll…”)? No planting of financial “seeds” to convince God that you’re serious? Just “Give us today our daily bread”? What’s the catch?

Well, there’s no “catch,” but there is something that is required. For the last two weeks we’ve seen that a call to pray is also a call to act upon—to live out—the prayer we pray. When we begin the prayer with worship (6:9), we’re called to give ourselves to him completely. We’re called to cast down our idols. When we pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10), we’re called to participate in the work of that kingdom—to be part of the answer to that prayer. So when we’re called to ask for our daily bread with a simple request, we’re also called to trust him with a simple faith.

No begging. No deal making. No threatening. No cajoling. No bribing. Just trust.

After all, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (6:8).

Pray: “Lord, this week as I consider my relationship to you in terms of my daily needs, teach me to trust you in ways I never have before. Teach me to rest on your promises. Teach me to cast my anxieties on you. I don’t want to dishonor you by refusing to believe that you really care for me and will supply all of my needs. Thank you that today you hear my simple prayer for daily bread.”

 

 

 

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Manna and Quail

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God – Manna and Quail

Exodus 16:1-31

16 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lordappearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lordyour God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer[a] for each person you have in your tent.’”

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers[b] for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you[c] refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

31 The people of Israel called the bread manna.[d] It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.

Consider: Okay, let’s be honest. How many of us would have tried to gather enough manna for more than one day? After all, it was just lying there on the ground. It wasn’t going to hurt anyone if it was stockpiled. What if it didn’t come the next day? Wouldn’t it be wise to have you and your family covered? So that’s exactly what some of the Israelites did, only to wake up and find maggots and stench where there had been the sweet taste of honey wafers (16:20, 31).

Why did God choose to feed his people in such a strange way? Well, this was only temporary. When they reached the land of promise they would plant fields and raise animals. They would feed their families in the ways of seed time and harvest. But while they were in the wilderness they had to be fed by the hand of God. And God wanted them to learn how to trust him—every day.

Did you notice that Jesus asked us to pray for just one day of “manna” at a time?

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

How are we praying? “Give us this year our yearly bread”? “Give me a lifetime guarantee so that I’ll never have to depend on you moment-by-moment”?

Sometimes we don’t pray at all for daily bread. We just depend on our own resources. But we’re not called to trust our own wisdom, our own cleverness or our own strength. We’re called to trust the One who gives us wisdom, makes us clever and strengthens us day by day.

So God teaches his children to be totally dependent on him. He teaches us that he is with us today and that he will be with us tomorrow.

By the way, one of the things they had to learn was that even in the land of promise when they were planting fields and raising animals, it was still their God who was supplying all of their needs.

Pray: “Lord, supply my needs today. And I thank you in advance, because I know the ‘manna’ will be there for me. I won’t ‘gather’ for tomorrow by being consumed with worry. You are with me today and I’m confident you’ll be here tomorrow.”

 

 

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God

Read: Matthew 13:44-46

Matthew 13:44-46

New International Version (NIV)

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Start Devotional Reading

Consider: Again, Jesus began a parable by saying…

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:44)

Kingdoms have laws. They also have values. They consider some things precious and other things cheap. Every time Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven, the people who heard him knew that he was drawing a contrast. They lived under the domination of the Roman Kingdom—the Roman Empire. That kingdom certainly had a set of laws and it certainly held to a set of values. And every time Jesus talked about the values of his kingdom, it was clear that he was condemning the values of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire was built on violence and the worship of false gods. It was an arrogant empire and was not afraid to crush anyone or any nation that came against its interests. Those values were so deeply engrained that scholars often refer to them as “the theology of Rome” or the “cult of empire.”

So Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven—or the empire of heaven—to show us that the values of his kingdom would always be at odds with the kingdoms of this world.

Our problem is, we love the kingdoms of this world too much. And because we do, we don’t always recognize the violence and arrogance of the kingdoms of this world, including our own nation. In many ways we worship with the “cult of empire” because we think we can find our joy, security and significance there. Jesus said there is something more precious.

So, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field” or like something of “great value” (Matthew 13:44-46). It shows us what is really important—what is precious and what is cheap. And when we discover it we find that nothing else can compare, for the kingdoms of this world cannot deliver on their promises.

Pray: “Lord, show me what it means for me to forsake everything in order to possess this hidden treasure.”

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God

Time Alone With God by Phil Stout

Matthew 13:31-35

New International Version (NIV)

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”[

Start Reading Devotional

Consider: These two very simple parables are set in the midst of Jesus’ other parables about the reign of God. And like so many of Jesus’ parables they begin with the phrase…

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:31, 33)

Those aren’t throw-away words. Jesus wasn’t simply looking for a good introductory phrase like, “Once upon a time…” No, Jesus was teaching us about his kingdom—the one that he brought when he came to earth. The entirety of his teaching was focused on helping us see the meaning, the substance and the glory of this new kingdom. And he taught us to pray for its arrival today. And as he repeatedly taught us about this kingdom, he promised that if we would have ears to hear—if we would be submissive and teachable—we would understand and live in this new kingdom today (Matthew 13:9).

These particular parables—the mustard seed and the small measure of yeast—tell us some simple things that we would do well to remember. We live in a day when “big” is celebrated. Huge television networks crank out images from around the world for millions of people to see. Our governments, businesses and cities keep growing and expanding. We’re tempted to measure the worth of something by its size. We think that “big” is significant. “Big” will change the world.

And yet, Jesus talked about two very small things—a mustard seed and a pinch of yeast. In fact, he described the plan of God for the cosmos with these two images. This great present and coming kingdom looks so small at times. It would be possible to go about the duties of our lives and never even see the mustard seed in front of us. In fact, if it were on the kitchen counter, we might just brush it aside. It is possible to eat bread and never realize that a pinch of yeast changed the molecular make-up of that bread so that it looks, feels and tastes totally different than it would have without the yeast.

Yes, the kingdom of heaven is at work. Can you see it?

Pray: I’m reminded of a prayer we sing from time to time—“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you.” Perhaps today we should pray, “Open the eyes and ears of my spirit, Lord. I want to see and participate in the work of your kingdom today.”

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God

Daily Devotional: Time Alone With God

Time Alone With God by Phil Stout

Matthew 13:31-35

New International Version (NIV)

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”[b]
Footnotes:

Devotional Start:

Consider: These two very simple parables are set in the midst of Jesus’ other parables about the reign of God. And like so many of Jesus’ parables they begin with the phrase…

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:31, 33)

Those aren’t throw-away words. Jesus wasn’t simply looking for a good introductory phrase like, “Once upon a time…” No, Jesus was teaching us about his kingdom—the one that he brought when he came to earth. The entirety of his teaching was focused on helping us see the meaning, the substance and the glory of this new kingdom. And he taught us to pray for its arrival today. And as he repeatedly taught us about this kingdom, he promised that if we would have ears to hear—if we would be submissive and teachable—we would understand and live in this new kingdom today (Matthew 13:9).

These particular parables—the mustard seed and the small measure of yeast—tell us some simple things that we would do well to remember. We live in a day when “big” is celebrated. Huge television networks crank out images from around the world for millions of people to see. Our governments, businesses and cities keep growing and expanding. We’re tempted to measure the worth of something by its size. We think that “big” is significant. “Big” will change the world.

And yet, Jesus talked about two very small things—a mustard seed and a pinch of yeast. In fact, he described the plan of God for the cosmos with these two images. This great present and coming kingdom looks so small at times. It would be possible to go about the duties of our lives and never even see the mustard seed in front of us. In fact, if it were on the kitchen counter, we might just brush it aside. It is possible to eat bread and never realize that a pinch of yeast changed the molecular make-up of that bread so that it looks, feels and tastes totally different than it would have without the yeast.

Yes, the kingdom of heaven is at work. Can you see it?

Pray: I’m reminded of a prayer we sing from time to time—“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you.” Perhaps today we should pray, “Open the eyes and ears of my spirit, Lord. I want to see and participate in the work of your kingdom today.”

 

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Read: Galatians 5:1-8

Galatians 5:1-8

New International Version (NIV)

Freedom in Christ
5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

Consider: Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers is a towering statement proclaiming our freedom in Christ. In it he emphatically teaches us that we no longer live “under the supervision of the law” (3:25). As Paul explains throughout this letter, the law could not change us. It could only show us our sin and powerlessness, and move us toward repentance and fellowship with God. Only Christ could change us. As Paul said on another occasion…

“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (Romans 8:3)

As Paul wrote to the Galatians, he not only proclaimed freedom, but he honestly expressed his frustration. He was puzzled and disappointed with the Galatian believers. They had accepted God’s grace, but then some people had convinced them that they needed to slavishly keep the Law in order to really be right with God. This angered Paul. He felt as though they had “been alienated from Christ” and had “fallen away from grace” (5:4).

We often fall into the same trap. We believe in God’s grace, but we strive to do enough to show ourselves that we are righteous. It is as if our “works” become an insurance policy just in case we are not fully accepted and forgiven. Paul railed against that kind of thinking.

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (2:21)

So today let’s bask in God’s grace. We serve him out of love, not to earn his approval. For if we serve him out of fear, we have a terrible time rejoicing in his love.

Pray: Thank God for freedom in Christ.

 

Daily Devotional

Daily Devotional

Time Alone with God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, Lead Pastor, JAXNAZ

Read: Galatians 5:13-14

Galatians 5:13-14

New International Version (NIV)

Life by the Spirit
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b]

 

 

Consider: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1). No ambiguity there. The love, acceptance and forgiveness that Christ lavished on us means that we are free. In fact we “were called to be free. But…”

“…do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (5:13)

Now some people think that Paul’s qualifier—the “but”—somehow limits our freedom. They think that choosing our own morality is true freedom. After all, didn’t Paul just dispense with the law? Didn’t he tell us that we are no longer live “under the supervision of the law” (3:25)?

So what does it mean to be free?

As long as I am the “god” of my own life, as long as I insist on my way and my terms, I live in bondage. I’m protecting the ego—what Paul calls the “old self” (Romans 6:6, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9). When I allow the ego to be in charge, I am in chains. But there’s good news!

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…” (Romans 6:6)

Refusing to indulge our sinful nature is not an exception to freedom. It is freedom—a freedom that is given by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Pray: Thank God that we no longer need to be enslaved to sin. Praise him that the chains dropped to the ground when his grace liberated us.

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Lead Pastor

Read: Matthew 5:17-20

Matthew 5:17-20

New International Version (NIV)

The Fulfillment of the Law
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Consider: In Jesus’ magnificent Sermon on the Mount, he said…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

He even goes on to affirm “the smallest letter,” “the least stroke of the pen” and “the least of these commands” contained in the Law of God (5:18-19).

That can sound rather confusing when you read the rest of the sermon, because immediately (and repeatedly) after saying that, Jesus referred to the Law in a much different manner. He said…

“You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

Six times in that sermon (5:21-22, 27,-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) Jesus taught that the Law that was given to them was no longer God’s will for them. He called us to something higher and deeper. The religious leaders of his day believed that Jesus was diminishing the Law—calling it worthless.

But Jesus was exalting God’s true Law. He came to fulfill the Law by teaching us the intent of the Law. To keep the letter of the Law does not fulfill it. To see the will of God for his creation is the fulfillment of the Law. And the God who is love (1 John 4:8, 16) taught that the fulfillment of the Law is love. Jesus said that the entirety of scripture—God’s complete will for us—is summarized in this…

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

When we see the Law in this light, we understand what Jesus meant when he said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees. We must live by love.

Pray: “Lord, I’m so prone to see the fulfillment of your will in terms of things that I can accomplish for you. Help me today to see that the fulfillment of your Law is love. Please help me to have eyes that see opportunities today to love like you love.”

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Lead Pastor

Thursday, June 30

Read: Galatians 5:16-18

Galatians 5:16-18  New International Version (NIV)

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Consider: Let’s return to Galatians 5 (see Monday’s and Tuesday’s meditations). As Paul described our freedom in Christ, he took a few moments to discuss the battle between “flesh” and “spirit.” This can be somewhat confusing if we misunderstand what Paul means by “flesh.”

Most of the time when the scriptures use that term, it refers to literal flesh and blood—the body. And we know from scripture (the creation, the incarnation of Christ, etc.) that flesh and blood are not bad. They are good! That’s what God said. He called his creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31)!

But sometimes Paul uses the term “flesh” in a different manner. Depending on which translation you read from today, you may see “the flesh” or “the sinful nature.” Paul is speaking about the “old self” and telling us that if that controls our lives, we’ll gratify a set of desires that are contrary to what God has for us.

Now there’s an important reason Paul brought this up in his letter to the Galatians—in the middle of his letter on freedom. He knew that if they continued on their path of trying to be justified by the Law—justified by their actions and accomplishments—they wouldn’t walk in step with the Spirit. He’s trying to save them from an existence that is purely in the “flesh.” When we walk on our own power, we gratify the wrong desires and it spells disaster for us and the people we love.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (5:16)

Pray: Thank God for the gift of his Spirit. Thank him that he made a way for you to follow him—to stay in step and in sync with him. He did not call you to achieve relationship with him through your own power or self-discipline. He simply asked you to be his dwelling place.

Time Alone With God: Daily Devotional

Time Alone with God daily devotional

BY PHIL STOUT, LEAD PASTOR, JAXNAZ, JACKSON, MI

Friday, July 1

Read: Galatians 5:16-21

Galatians 5:16-21

New International Version (NIV)

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Consider: Paul said, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious” (5:19), and then listed some of those acts. Paul’s list is not exhaustive, but you’ll notice that he includes heinous sins—like idolatry, hatred and orgies—along with ones that are often overlooked—like envy and selfish ambition. This is often the case when Paul talks about sin. In his letter to the Romans, Paul put sexual immorality, murder and God-hating in the same list with gossip, slander and arrogance (Romans 1).

Why is this relevant? Well, for one thing it humbles us. We are always tempted to see our sins as minor when compared to the “big” sins. We’re humbled when we remember how badly we need the Holy Spirit—when we remember that we are powerless to overcome our own real sins.

But the main point Paul is making has to do with the nature of sin. He wants us to be aware of where sin originates—it is the result of the “sinful nature.” So the solution is living in step with the Spirit.

Living by my own effort and discipline is not the same as living in constant fellowship with the Spirit of God. His presence makes all the difference. He gives us victory. He gives us peace. He gives us joy. And that’s why we are free.

Pray: “Lord, teach me today what I need to learn from you. However you choose to do it, I ask that you would expand my insight this day as to what it means to walk in step with your Spirit.”

A Daily Devotional on the Fruit of the Spirit

A Daily Devotional on the Fruit of the Spirit

 

Time Alone with God daily devotionals

by Phil Stout, JAXNAZ lead pastor, Jackson MI
Saturday, July 2
Read: Galatians 5:22-25

Galatians 5:22-25   New International Version (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Consider: This is a passage of scripture we should all commit to memory—the Fruit of the Spirit. Simply reading the list inspires us. It brings a yearning for a life like that and a world like that.

Let’s remember that the Fruit of the Spirit—the result of the Spirit’s presence in our lives—is given to us in the midst of a larger conversation about freedom. Freedom is not listed here, but it is the topic under consideration. The freedom we have in Christ is a gift and an accumulation of gifts.

As we saw in yesterday’s passage, we cannot avoid sin through our own efforts. Our victory over sin is the result of the Spirit’s presence in our lives and our willingness to walk in step with the Spirit. The same is true when it comes to the Fruit of the Spirit. I cannot manufacture these in my life. They are gifts.

When I receive them as gifts—rather than seeing them as demands—I’m liberated to receive them from the One I love and the One who loves me. I ask for them. I ask for wisdom in how to live them. I give my best effort to honoring God with them. But they are not of my own making. They are gifts.

And the gifts are the result of the Gift—the One Jesus called “the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4).

Pray: “Lord, teach me to find liberation by finding you—by seeing you every moment of my life. I choose today to dwell with you, to be aware of your presence with me, and to be grateful for the Gift you are and the gifts you give.”

Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Lead Pastor, Jackson, MI

 

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