Archive for September, 2016

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ church

Monday, September 26

Read: Matthew 5:10-12

Matthew 5:10-12
New International Version (NIV)

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Consider: Perhaps this final Beatitude—the blessing of the persecuted—is the most difficult one for us to bring into our context. While embracing poverty of spirit, meekness, mercy-giving and peacemaking are hard to do (5:3-9), it is difficult for me to even see how this final blessing pertains to me. I have never known persecution.

I read about the great saints and martyrs who have gone before us—“the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—and I hope that my faith, commitment and love are that strong. I doubt that I’ll ever be tested in the same way that Stephen, Peter, Paul, Justin Martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero were. And yet, it is possible for me to become like them—it is possible for us to be like Jesus.

I also understand that there are people in our neighborhoods and churches who have experienced some forms of persecution. I think of teenagers who have been bullied for their faith. That may not sound significant to some people, but to a young person who desperately wants friends and supportive peers, rejection is monumental. I think of some people who are married to spouses who are hostile to their faith and who make life miserable. In ways unseen by the rest of us, their pain is deep—almost indescribable. Yes, real persecution takes place in the lives of people around us.

But it’s important that we don’t paint ourselves as victims when we are not suffering for the faith. If people disagree with us, we shouldn’t see that as persecution. If we are verbally attacking others for their beliefs, we shouldn’t point out their viciousness when they respond in like manner. (Remember, Jesus said that “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”—Matthew 7:2.)

Jesus said that you are blessed “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you” because of your faith in him and your relationship with him (5:11). As we talk about persecution, it’s easy to focus on those insults and lies. But Jesus wants to focus us on the blessings.

This week we’ll look at some of the blessings he has for those who are beaten down—physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.

Pray: If you have been going through a time of persecution, thank the Lord that you are not forgotten. Praise him that you have been singled out for blessing. If you are not going through such a time, spend some time in prayer for your Christian sisters and brothers who are experiencing persecution. In some parts of the world our spiritual family is undergoing extreme persecution which includes the loss of churches, homes and even loss of life. They need our prayers.

Tuesday, September 27

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
New International Version (NIV)

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[a]

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Consider: We have a checkered history. We look back over two millennia of Christianity and we see times when the church was pure. We’ve never been faultless or free from error. But there have been times when the world looked at the church and clearly saw Jesus. The church displayed the unity of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and the beauty of the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7).

But, sadly, there have been times—so many times—when the church was so corrupt that it was a force for evil in this world. People were attacked, tortured and killed in the name of Christ. Those who claimed the legacy of the persecuted became the persecutors.

As you study our history, you’ll find something fascinating happening within you. Your heart will break as you read about the Christian martyrs. Those brothers and sisters suffered so much for Christ and for you and me. But your grief will be much deeper when you read about those who persecuted others in the name of Jesus. When you see how “Christians” attacked our Jewish brothers and sisters, tried to destroy Islam by the sword, launched inquisitions against and tortured one another, used the Bible to justify subduing Native Americans and enslaving African Americans, and even today justify evil in the name of Christ, your heart is truly shattered.

What is the difference between a pure church and one full of corruption? The answer is found in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Corruption revolves around power. When we pursue power, we are forgetting the One who set aside power to redeem the world. The oppressive regimes of the world take the view from the top. The Beatitudes show us how to take the view from the bottom. And it is from that vantage point that the pure Body of Christ can be used to save the world.

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

Pray: “Lord, I want your church to show forth the beauty of the Bride of Christ. I pray today for my church, the church in America and the church around the world. Help us to seek you rather than power. Forgive us of our arrogance and teach us to be humble. Help us to learn the values of the One who called us to humility of spirit and purity of heart (Matthew 5:3, 5, 8).”

Wednesday, September 28

Read: Acts 4:23-31

Acts 4:23-31New International Version (NIV)

The Believers Pray
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.[a]’[b]

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

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Consider: Tertullian, a third-century Church Father, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” And clearly he was right. Martyrdom didn’t destroy the church of Jesus Christ. It strengthened it and purified it.

The whole reason empires have persecuted and continue to persecute Christians is the belief that the vast power of an empire can crush the weak. From the perspective of this world, that only makes sense. After all, how could a small group who followed a carpenter the authorities had killed, stand up against the most powerful government and the strongest military the world had ever seen? Caesar probably didn’t think those Jesus followers would be too much of a problem.

The empires of this world are deeply deceived when it comes to power. They see it in all the wrong ways. When you hear a president or politician brag about our country, what do you typically hear? You hear about our strong economy and the world’s greatest military. Things like the “heart” of Americans or the “spirit” of Americans usually take a back seat or they are directly related to having pride in our military power.

But in Jesus’ kingdom, true strength is found in another source.

The Sanhedrin—the ruling Jewish council—detained Peter and John and jailed them overnight. The next day they were released after “further threats” as to what would happen if they continued to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (4:21). The council hoped that would be the end of it.

But after “Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them” we hear a remarkable prayer rise up from God’s people…

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (4:23, 29)

And the result was that they “spoke the word of God boldly” (4:31).

“Persecutions are to the works of God what the frosts of the winter are to plants; far from destroying them, they help them to strike their roots deep in the soil and make them more full of life.” — Alphonsus Liguori

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for empowering our forebears to endure great suffering for the cause of Christ. Thank you for what they have handed down to us. May their suffering be used by you to embolden us to follow you faithfully, no matter what we must endure.”

Thursday, September 29

Read: Hebrews 11:32-12:3

Hebrews 11:32-12:3
New International Version (NIV)

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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Consider: I’ve always heard the eleventh chapter of Hebrews referred to as the “Faith Chapter.” It begins with that wonderful description of faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (11:1). But I like to refer to it as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” The writer doesn’t really deal with faith at a theological level. He doesn’t try to explain what faith is. Instead, he shows us what faith is by reminding us of those who have gone before us. Those Hall of Famers—those heroes—lived and died for their faith in God.

The writer to the Hebrews links our faith with theirs. He wants us to be emboldened by them. To some it may seem absurd that we might be encouraged and emboldened by hearing that our forefathers and foremothers “were tortured…faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment…were put to death by stoning…were killed by the sword…destitute, persecuted and mistreated…” (11:35-37). But there is a reality underneath this that defies human logic. Jesus said they were “blessed” (Matthew 5:10).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Later in that same letter, we are again encouraged to remember those who led the way.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (13:7)

And then he added…

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8)

In other words, what Jesus did for them, he will do for you.

Pray: Thank the Lord for “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—those people who have gone before us and are cheering us on to victory. Take some time to remember people you knew personally who ran the race in a manner that you would like to emulate. Thank God for their lives and the powerful examples they gave us. Ask God to use you in the same manner for someone else who needs to see Christ at work in a real person’s life.

Friday, September 30

Read: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
New International Version (NIV)

7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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Consider: Since Paul described his weakness as “a thorn in my flesh” (12:7), I believe it was a physical problem—perhaps chronic pain. Paul called it a “messenger of Satan” that tormented him and kept him humble. People don’t usually talk about this as part of his persecution, but I believe it was. Consider what Paul had endured physically.

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move…I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (11:23-27)

Paul was probably in his late forties or early fifties when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians. But I’m sure he had the body of a much older man. Each of the five beatings he described would have taken him close to death. The tendons and muscles in his back would have been torn to shreds. I’m sure that Paul lived with chronic pain and that every movement he made was difficult for him in his later years.

How could he possibly go on with life? Why wasn’t he driven to despair? It was because he believed the promise Christ gave him…

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9)

The Lord taught Paul to see power differently than those who persecuted him. He had discovered that Christ’s power would be perfected in his weakness. To him that was a cause for celebration.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12:10)

Pray: “Lord, teach me what it means for me to proclaim, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ I am painfully aware of my weaknesses, so I need you to show me how your will, your way and your strength are perfected in me. I submit myself to you for you to use me—especially my weaknesses—in any manner you choose.”

Saturday, October 1

Read: Acts 1:1-8

Acts 1:1-8New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 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. 4 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. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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Consider: Before Jesus left his disciples, he gave them a commission—the Great Commission—to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). But he reminded them that they could not do it on their own power. They were instructed to wait in Jerusalem for the “gift” that the Father had promised—the Spirit of God who would fill them, live in them and love through them (Acts 1:4).

This first account of the early Christian church is called the Acts of the Apostles. But it could also be called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit,” for in writing this account, Luke made it very clear that it was the Third Person of the Trinity who was transforming the world by working through human beings who were made in God’s image.

And Jesus was very clear about what the Holy Spirit would do through the lives of his followers.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8)

He didn’t say “you should be my witnesses” or “you ought to be my witnesses.” He said, “you will be my witnesses.” That would be the result of the indwelling power of God’s Spirit.

Now we tend to think of a witness as someone who verbalizes what he or she has seen. But that doesn’t communicate the full scope of this word as it is used in the New Testament. In the original language of Acts, the word is martures, from which we get our word “martyr.” The “witness” that those disciples would deliver would be communicated through their words, their actions, their lives and their deaths.

So we often refer to our “witness” as something that is revealed by our lives. We witness to grace. We strive to live out a witness for peace and justice. We bear witness of the love of Christ that is given to us and given to others through us. In other words, our lives are not ours. We have given them fully to him.

Paul said…

“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of witnessing to the good news of God’s grace.” (20:24)

I believe this is the true definition of a martyr. A martyr witnesses the good news, no matter what it costs.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-11)

Pray: “I’m grateful, Lord, that your Spirit will make my life a witness today. I give myself to you without reservation. Thank you for your promise that you will be with me always—‘to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotionals: Love And Peace On Earth

Time Alone With God Daily Devotionals: Love And Peace On Earth

Written by Pastor Phil Stout

P With Those Who Hurt Us

Monday, September 12 — Saturday, September 17

Monday, September 12

Read: Matthew 5:9

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Consider: I grew up at a time when peace was controversial. I was a child during the war in Viet Nam. Our country was sharply divided. It seemed that every day protests and counter-protests were highlighted on the nightly news. But it wasn’t just the domestic response to the war that took center stage. The war itself was always in front of us. The Viet Nam war was the first “living room war”—the first war that we watched on television in almost real time.

Though I was a child, I vividly remember the polarization. Families were torn apart and relationships were severed. I heard stories about people who accused their parents of hate, while their parents accused them of treason. It seemed that there was no middle ground. How could there be? You were either in favor of America’s involvement or you were against it. Or so it seemed to me from my elementary and middle school vantage point.

Of course, peace is still controversial. But, why? Doesn’t everyone want peace? The military general wants peace and the anti-war activist wants peace. So, why do we fight over peace?

We know why. We don’t actually disagree over our desire for peace, but we have basic disagreements over how peace can be achieved.

So how can we even begin to talk about Jesus’ blessing on the peacemakers? We can only begin by looking through the eyes of Jesus. So when it comes to peacemaking, we can’t look at the polarities of our world. Our world offers two options—fight or flight. But Jesus always offers a “third way”—or more correctly stated, a new way.

This week we want to try to see peace—shalom—through the eyes of Christ.

Pray: “Lord, in my encounters today, I may be given the opportunity to be a voice for peace or a source of division. That opportunity may come upon me unexpectedly. So please give me your eyes and ears. Give me your heart. Help me to be a child of God—a peacemaker.”

Tuesday, September 13

Read: Ephesians 2:11-18

11Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

Consider: Part of the reason that peace is so hard to achieve between individuals, groups and nations is that we tend to view peace as a win or lose proposition. Someone has to be victorious and someone has to surrender. Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. Someone has to win the argument and someone has to concede.

But that’s not Jesus’ standard for peace. His equation is 1+1=1.

“For he…has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (Ephesians 2:14)

So if you get into an argument with your spouse, the question is not, “Who is right?” The question is, “How can we become one?” “How can we destroy ‘the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’?” And Jesus taught us that the manner in which we approach someone we love is the manner in which we should also approach someone we are tempted to hate (Matthew 5:43-48).

That takes humility. We all believe we’re right. We all believe that we will be affirmed when others see it our way—when others admit that we are right and they are wrong. That kind of thinking is pretty central to our egos. But Christ asks us to lay aside our need to be right and asks us to take up the task of building bridges—forging peace.

Now, of course, there is no denying that sometimes right and wrong are pitted against one another. Sometimes you are right! Peacemaking is not an exercise in ignoring your convictions or abandoning your principles. That’s a terrible caricature of peacemaking. But it does mean putting people first. It means always seeing the image of God in others—even our enemies.

Pray: “Lord, you focused on me instead of focusing on my sin. You chose reconciliation with me rather than my destruction. You were right and I was wrong. Yet you saw me as an image-bearer of God rather than seeing me as the sum total of my sins. Give me your eyes as I seek to be an agent of your peace in the lives around me today.”

Wednesday, September 14

Read: Matthew 5:38-39

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Consider: Turn the other cheek. Could there be a more difficult command? Could Jesus have been serious when he taught us this response to evil?

Perhaps no other command has been as misunderstood as this one. And it’s not an abstract issue. It touches real life. As a pastor, I have had women ask me if they had to allow an abusive husband to beat them—if they had to go home and live in that hellish environment. Of course, the answer is an emphatic no! It is not God’s will for anyone to be abused. So what was Jesus saying?

There was a cultural subtlety at play that we don’t want to miss. In that day, if a person struck you on “the right cheek” they were using the back of their hand. (They always used their “clean” hand, their right hand.) A back-handed slap meant that they were treating you as a slave, an inferior, a sub-human. Jesus was telling people that they were not sub-human, they were not inferior and they didn’t deserve abuse. So to “turn to them the other cheek” was to say, “I’m your equal. I will not allow myself to be treated as sub-human. But I refuse to act toward you in the hateful manner that you acted toward me.”

That is why we always talk about Jesus’ “third way” or new way. We don’t return evil for evil. Yet we don’t allow evil to go unchecked. We take a stand for what is right. Yet we do it humbly, in a nonviolent manner, thereby giving dignity to ourselves and to our enemies. We don’t allow ourselves to be abused and we don’t abuse.

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third day that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” — Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Pray: Thank you, Lord, for my inherent dignity—a dignity given to me by your image in me. Help me to always see that in me and in everyone. Help me to stand against injustice in your way, not the ways of this world.”

Thursday, September 15

Read: Psalm 85:8-13

Context
8I will hear what God the LORD will say;
For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones;
But let them not turn back to folly.
9Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.

10Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11Truth springs from the earth,
And righteousness looks down from heaven.

12Indeed, the LORD will give what is good,
And our land will yield its produce.

13Righteousness will go before Him
And will make His footsteps into a way.

Consider: There is a beautiful Hebrew greeting that you hear from time to time—shalom. At its most basic definition, this Old Testament word means “peace.” But there is so much more to shalom that we need to embrace.

We typically think of peace as the absence of hostility. When fighting ceases, we call it peace. But that is not all that God wants for us—that alone is not God’s shalom.

We’ve all heard of cases in which two brothers had an ongoing war of words over many years. They may have finally grown tired of it and stopped seeing each other altogether. Or they may have gotten to the point where they could see each other, but remained silent about their differences. Open hostilities had ceased. But that’s not peace. That’s not shalom.

Shalom would come to that family when those two brothers were reconciled—when the severed relationship was restored. Shalom is the presence of wholeness, justice, righteousness and peace. I love the way the psalmist says it…

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace (shalom) kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

We were created for a deep, lasting shalom with God and with one another. So we undertake the hard work of listening, forgiving, restoring, reconciling, humbling ourselves and seeking what God has wanted for us all along.

Pray: God gave Moses a blessing that the priests were instructed to give to the nation of Israel. Let’s pray that blessing over ourselves and all people this day.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you shalom.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Friday, September 16

Read: Romans 12:9-21

9Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Consider: One of the Latin words for peace is pacem. This yields other peace-related words to our English language. When a general brings peace to a war-torn area, it is said that he pacified the region. A person that is against the use of violence is called a pacifist.

The problem with these words is the manner in which we understand them today. For example, the word “pacifism” (a word that is very distasteful to many people) is not the same as “passive-ism” even though that’s how many people hear it. And when we think of “pacifying” someone, we don’t think of bringing peace. We think of sticking a pacifier in a baby’s mouth so Mom and Dad can get some sleep. (Well, I guess that is a form of peace.)

Making peace and being passive are not the same thing. In fact, Paul says that working for peace is anything but passive.

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Peace is something for which we work and fight. But we don’t fight in the same manner as people have done throughout the ages. We have a different king who leads a kingdom that is unlike any of the kingdoms of this world. So we use different weapons.

That’s why we are constantly called to Jesus’ “third way”—his new way. Paul summarized it powerfully when he said…

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17, 21)

The ends do not justify the means. To use sinful practices to accomplish good goals is still sinful. As Paul said, we totally disagree with those who say, “Let us do evil that good may result” (Romans 3:8).

So we humbly and creatively—under the power of the Holy Spirit—search out the weapons that God wants us to use in order to overcome the evil within us and all around us.

Pray: “Lord, teach me what it means for me today to ‘overcome evil with good.’ Remind me that love is more powerful that any weapon that can be used against your kingdom.”

Saturday, September 17

Read: Matthew 5:3-9

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Consider: In Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek and in Paul’s admonition to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), we’ve seen this week that peacemaking is central to our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. In his Sermon on the Mount and throughout The New Testament, Christ calls us to this work. And it is daily work. We can practice peacemaking every day and every hour of our lives.

How? Again, we must return to the idea of shalom that we looked at Thursday and the biblical concept of justice. When our lives are given to others—when we embrace the lonely, lift up the fallen, minister to the hungry (no matter what kind of hunger they experience)—we are practicing justice, righteousness and shalom. Peace is justice and justice is peace—“righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10).

And in this expansive view of peacemaking we see the Beatitudes—the blessings of Jesus—fulfilling one another.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:6, 9)

Every time we allow our hands to be the hands of Christ and every time we bring the presence of Christ to someone who suffers, we are engaging in the high calling of peacemaking.

It takes the mind of Christ to do so. It takes selflessness. It takes a perspective on life that transcends our own needs and agendas. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why peacemakers are considered “children of God.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pray: As we did last week, let’s end the week by praying the Prayer of St. Francis…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Christian Article On Why God Gives Us Trials

Christian Article On Why God Gives Us Trials

Why God Gives Us Weakness
How I’ve come to identify with Gideon the wimp.
Sarah Lebhar Hall/ APRIL 24, 2016

Why God Gives Us Weakness

Church Sermons by Pastor Phil Stout

    Church Sermons by Pastor Phil Stout, Nazarene Church

Listing of Some Church Sermons by Phil Stout

    Filled, and Filled Again, September 4, 2016
    No Reputation, August 31, 2016
    Stooping Low to be Lifted High, August 28, 2016
    New Every Morning, August 24, 2016
    Finding God in the Darkness, August 21, 2016
    Simplicity of Heart, August 17, 2016

    “Click Here”, down below, is a link to a series of messages by Pastor Phil Stout, lead pastor of the Jackson First Church of the Nazarene, Jackson, Michigan:

    Click Here

time alone with god daily devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Phil Stout, lead pastor, JAXNAZ church
http://www.philstout.org/daily-devotionals/

Saturday, September 10

Read: Matthew 5:7

Matthew 5:7
New International Version (NIV)

7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Start

Consider: It’s easy to look at the fifth Beatitude—the fifth blessing—as a future promise only. I saw it that way for years. If I’m merciful now, then someday God will show me mercy by allowing me into heaven. But God has already been merciful to me. One day on a cross and every day of my life are gifts of mercy.

You see, the biblical concept of mercy is very close to the idea of forgiveness. Just a few moments after giving us this blessing, Jesus said…

“…if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (6:14)

And a few moments later he said…

“…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:2)

I think the promise that merciful people will be given mercy is a promise for every moment of my life here and now. And part of that is the mercy I will receive from others when I have been graciously merciful to them.

I believe our lives with God and with one another are to be lives that inhale and exhale mercy, forgiveness and love.

This week we’ve heard God proclaim it through the prophet (Hosea 6:6) and Jesus affirm it as he lived among us (Matthew 9:13, 12:7) and Paul put it to poetry (1 Corinthians 13:13). And they all tell us the same thing. Nothing is more important.

Pray: To remind us to live the life of a mercy-giver this day, let’s pray the Prayer of St. Francis…

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, lead Pastor of JAXNAZ church

http://www.philstout.org/daily-devotionals/

Thursday, September 8

Read: Matthew 12:1-8

Matthew 12:1-8
New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Start

Consider: We’ve been looking this week at the tension between law and love. Sometimes it is communicated as the tension between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. As Paul said…

“…the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)

This is vital to our understanding of Jesus’ message. A legalistic “righteousness” makes us harsh and judgmental. We begin to rationalize our unloving stance by saying that we are speaking truth and speaking truth comes before our obligation to love. But it doesn’t. Our top priority is not getting our theology right. Our top priority is learning to love like Christ loves.

As Jesus and his friends walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath, the Pharisees (there they are again) challenged Jesus about the disciples’ apparent breaking of the Sabbath laws. Jesus’ response included a quote from the prophet Hosea who gave us these words from God…

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12:7 quoting Hosea 6:6)

What Hosea and Jesus meant by “sacrifice” were the rituals, worship and laws of Israel (which included the sacrifice of animals). Jesus was saying very plainly that how we treat others was much more important to God than how we worship or even what we believe. That was a pretty radical statement. It still is today. But remember that it comes from the lips of God.

Our worship is important. Our rituals are important. But if we do not live the life of a mercy-giver, we’ve missed the whole point.

Pray: “Lord, you desire mercy more than the other things we’ve often associated with our faith. Help me today to be a mercy-giver and one who loves all people regardless of who they are or what they’ve done. Today someone will cross my path who needs your mercy, forgiveness and love. Please give that to them through me.”

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone with God daily devotionals

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ
http://www.philstout.org/daily-devotionals/

Monday, September 5

Read: Matthew 23:1-3, 13-15
New International Version (NIV)

A Warning Against Hypocrisy
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

Start

Consider: The Pharisees were the Jewish sect that saw themselves as the keepers and preservers of God’s Law—also called the Law of Moses. They were convinced that if every Jew kept the entire Law for one full day, the kingdom of God would come.

So why were they constantly at odds with Jesus? Why were they always confronting him and why was he always challenging them? Why did Jesus use such strong words when dealing with the Pharisees? In fact, they were the only ones who had Jesus’ biting language directed at them. Jesus didn’t call anyone else “hypocrites” (23:13) and “snakes” (23:33).

Jesus could read their motives. (By the way, that’s why we don’t call people hypocrites. We don’t know their motives. Only Jesus has that right.) They used the Law and religion to make themselves look holy as they oppressed and dominated others. They set themselves up as the arbiters of who was right with God and who was not. They used that power to control others. God’s intent for the people’s relationship with him was being destroyed by the Pharisees.

It remains the same today. Whenever people use religion—including the Christian faith—as a measuring rod that they can wield to declare who is in and who is out, Jesus is not seen. Judgmental religion is seen. And it’s ugly. Legalistic “righteousness” is as deadly today as ever.

We don’t come to Jesus as Pharisees who believe we have all the answers. We don’t save the world by bullying people into agreeing with our theology. We don’t belittle those who have yet to discover God’s grace that came to us through Christ. We come to Jesus as the “poor in spirit” (5:3) and approach our brothers and sisters as people who need the good news that we’ve discovered.

I love that old saying that describes how we approach the world. We’re beggars who are running to tell other beggars where we found bread.

Pray: “Lord, your grace is a gift that is beyond my comprehension. Thank you for teaching us that ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world’ (John 3:17). Help me today to be a ‘saving’ force for you and never one who condemns. Thank you that you chose not to condemn me.”

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ lead pastor
http://www.philstout.org/daily-devotionals/

Monday, September 5

Matthew 23:1-3
New International Version (NIV)

A Warning Against Hypocrisy
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

Start:

Consider: The Pharisees were the Jewish sect that saw themselves as the keepers and preservers of God’s Law—also called the Law of Moses. They were convinced that if every Jew kept the entire Law for one full day, the kingdom of God would come.

So why were they constantly at odds with Jesus? Why were they always confronting him and why was he always challenging them? Why did Jesus use such strong words when dealing with the Pharisees? In fact, they were the only ones who had Jesus’ biting language directed at them. Jesus didn’t call anyone else “hypocrites” (23:13) and “snakes” (23:33).

Jesus could read their motives. (By the way, that’s why we don’t call people hypocrites. We don’t know their motives. Only Jesus has that right.) They used the Law and religion to make themselves look holy as they oppressed and dominated others. They set themselves up as the arbiters of who was right with God and who was not. They used that power to control others. God’s intent for the people’s relationship with him was being destroyed by the Pharisees.

It remains the same today. Whenever people use religion—including the Christian faith—as a measuring rod that they can wield to declare who is in and who is out, Jesus is not seen. Judgmental religion is seen. And it’s ugly. Legalistic “righteousness” is as deadly today as ever.

We don’t come to Jesus as Pharisees who believe we have all the answers. We don’t save the world by bullying people into agreeing with our theology. We don’t belittle those who have yet to discover God’s grace that came to us through Christ. We come to Jesus as the “poor in spirit” (5:3) and approach our brothers and sisters as people who need the good news that we’ve discovered.

I love that old saying that describes how we approach the world. We’re beggars who are running to tell other beggars where we found bread.

Pray: “Lord, your grace is a gift that is beyond my comprehension. Thank you for teaching us that ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world’ (John 3:17). Help me today to be a ‘saving’ force for you and never one who condemns. Thank you that you chose not to condemn me.”

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone with God daily devotionals

Written by Phil Stout, JAXNAZ church lead pastor, Jackson, MI
Tuesday, September 6

Read: Matthew 23:23-24

New International Version (NIV)

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Start

Consider: Matthew 23 contains Jesus’ “Seven Woes” against the Pharisees. (See yesterday’s meditation for why Jesus was continually at odds with them.) I’m sure the Pharisees were not amused, but the others who were listening were laughing out loud at Jesus’ image of someone straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Some of the Pharisees actually did strain gnats out of their food. They had dietary laws about eating meat that still had blood in it. You can’t bleed a gnat, so you have to make sure you don’t swallow one. I know. You can’t make this stuff up. Jesus lampooned their concept of religion and said they had entirely missed the point of God’s will. They might as well swallow a camel—blood and all!

Jesus wasn’t saying that keeping the Law was bad. In fact, when he talked about their tithing he said that they should have done that. But, in their obsession with measuring an exact 10% to prove their obedience to God, they lost the intent of God’s Law.

“You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (23:23)

Working for justice for the poor and vulnerable. Giving mercy as God has been merciful to us. Being faithful to the work of Jesus and learning how to love like Christ. This is what Paul would later call “the righteous requirement of the law” (Romans 8:4).

When we get free from the legalism that is so often embedded in our past, we find the freedom to love. We don’t have to judge others. We don’t have to tell people who is righteous and who is not. We simply get to respond to the invitation to love like Christ loves.

Pray: “Lord, sometimes I try so hard to be right that I lose the freedom of my relationship with you. It’s easy to concentrate on the wrong things. Help me to learn more—this very day—about loving like you love. Give me encounters and opportunities to be the face of Christ to others today. What a thrill it is to be invited by you to be your agent of grace.”

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