Archive for November, 2016

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Church

Saturday, December 3

Read: Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
New International Version (NIV)

Mary’s Song
46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Start:

Consider: Mary’s song is, in part, a prophecy. And like so many of God’s prophets, she presented her words in the past tense, as if these things had already taken place.

“He has performed mighty deeds…scattered those who are proud…brought down rulers…lifted up the humble…filled the hungry…sent the rich away empty…”

There is certainty in her words—great confidence in what her son would do. And for those in power who were committed to keeping their power, this was not good news. Why, if Augustus would have heard those words, Mary would have been arrested for treason. It wasn’t safe to proclaim Jesus as Lord when the empire was saying “Caesar is Lord” (Acts 17:6-8).

But in the great turmoil of those months leading up to Jesus’ birth, the Holy Spirit had somehow taught her something about this baby in her womb. Somehow she was beginning to understand what Isaiah meant when he said that “the government will be on his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6). Her words showed that a new kingdom was on the way and the world would never be the same.

Isaiah also talked about it in the past tense, as well as the present and the future…

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

The new kingdom—it has happened, it is happening and it will happen. Such is the reality of Advent.

Pray: “Lord, so often I am trapped in time. I regret the past or dread the future. But you are the God who was, who is and who is to come (Revelation 1:8). Thank you that the kingdom you bring transcends time. Help me to live in eternity in this moment, filled with gratitude for your coming and your presence.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout of JAXNAZ Church

Friday, December 2

Read: Luke 1:39-56

Luke 1:39-56
New International Version (NIV)

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Mary’s Song
46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Start:

Consider: Mary’s song, known to Christians everywhere as The Magnificat, is a full-throated praise to the God who has promised her a son. But this is not just any son. This son will bring down rulers from their thrones and lift of the humble (1:52). This son will perform “mighty deeds with his arm” and will fulfill God’s promise to Abraham’s children—and through them to all of creation (1:51, 54-55).

We often think of Mary as a shy, unassuming young lady. She may have been. But that is not the Mary we see as she boldly proclaims the intent of God through Jesus Christ. Here she is proclaiming the inversion of the social order. She is saying that God, through her son, will turn everything upside down.

The amazing thing about Mary’s song of worship is that she knows that she is now part of what God is going to do. She can worship fully because, when confronted with the call, she responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Real worship takes place when the life of the worshipper is totally given to God. Mary’s worship rings with truth, authenticity and authority because of her submission to God’s will for her life. We are also called to be part of what God has planned for his world. We are part of the grace that changes everything. When my life, my love, my past, my present, my future, my strengths, my weaknesses—my all—is given to him, I am part of this new work of God that upends the world as we know it.

Pray: Ask God to help you worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24) as a participant in the work God is now doing and the work he will continue to do.

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Church

Thursday, December 1

Read: Luke 1:11-38

Luke 1:11-38
New International Version (NIV)

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Start:

Consider: Luke opens his gospel with two stories that are similar, yet lead to very different circumstances. Both are accounts of angelic visits. Both contain the promise of a child. Both will have similar outcomes. Yet something is different.

Zechariah responded, “How can I be sure of this?” (1:18)

Mary responded, “How will this be…?” (1:34)

It sounds like Zechariah and Mary are asking Gabriel the same question. And yet, God’s messenger had two very different responses. It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Zechariah is looking for proof—looking for a guarantee. When he asked, “How can I be sure of this?” it sounds as though he was asking for a miraculous sign. As a matter of fact, he did get a miraculous sign. Be careful what you ask for.

Perhaps Mary’s question was one of process. It does not sound like she was saying, “Prove it!” but that she was asking, “How will this transpire?” So Gabriel explained to her the process…

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God… For nothing is impossible with God.” (1:35, 37)

Mary’s reply was simple. Without proof, without any guarantees, she was willing to trust the call of God.

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (1:38)

Is God’s call enough for you?

Pray: “Lord, so often I want guarantees. I want to know that my commitment to you will bring me the things that I want. But today I repent of that kind of response to your call. Without proof or guarantees, I want to tell you that I am your servant. I’ll follow wherever you lead me.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Wednesday, November 30

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, of JAXNAZ Church

Read: Matthew 1:21-23

Matthew 1:21-23
New International Version (NIV)

21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[a] because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[b] (which means “God with us”).

Start:

Consider: Two prophecies in two testaments, separated by centuries, give us the same promise. In a time of war and fear, Isaiah said that the Lord would reveal himself—would give a sign…

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)

Centuries later, from a cave on the Island of Patmos, John saw a vision and declared…

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Revelation 21:3)

It’s the same message. “God is with us”—“God’s dwelling place is now among the people.” Both advents declare the same promise.

It is essential to see this or we will not understand how we are to live in this present age. The kingdom of heaven is coming, but it is already here. Jesus will come again, but he has already arrived. In other words, today we get to live in the new kingdom even as we await it in its fullness.

I get to live by the new kingdom values today. Today I get to receive and give grace. Today I get to be filled with hope. Today I get to love my enemy. Today I get to reject the sword and embrace the cross. Today I get to lay down my life for Christ and for his world.

I don’t have to live by the old, tired values of the kingdoms of this world. That’s the freedom given to us by Christ’s arrival.

Pray: “Lord, your presence is a gift beyond my comprehension. And yet I can know your presence. What my mind cannot conceive, my spirit can receive. Thank you for the promise and reality of Immanuel—God with us. God with me.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout of JAXNAZ Church

Tuesday, November 29

Read: John 11:17-26

John 11:17-26
New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Start

Consider: Yesterday we listened in on Jesus and Martha as he comforted her at the loss of her brother. There we saw two resurrections…

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’” (11:23)

“Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’” (11:24)

Jesus was speaking about a resurrection that was imminent—one that would happen within the hour. Martha was speaking about a future event—one that had been anticipated for centuries. But then, Jesus bound them together in a manner that Martha could hardly comprehend…

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’” (11:25)

That is what we try to comprehend—to embrace—at Advent. God was in Christ, reconciling us and his entire creation (cosmos) to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Jesus brought this reconciliation by bringing resurrection.

So when we see new life in the manger and new life emerging from the empty tomb, we see ourselves and our world in the three resurrections…

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Your resurrection and mine, described by Jesus when he told Martha, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (11:25-26). That eternal life began the day we were born again.

“…the resurrection at the last day” (11:24) when the “groaning creation” will be renewed (Romans 8:22).

The First Advent and the Second Advent cannot be understood apart from one another. These are not disparate pieces. They form one act of God, for Jesus is resurrection and Jesus is life.

That is why we cannot talk about Advent without talking about hope.

Pray: “Lord, you asked Martha if she believed that you are the resurrection. Help me to believe, with my faith and with my life. Today I will live in hope—no matter what I see or experience—because you are ‘the resurrection and the life.’”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout of JAXNAZ Church

Monday, November 28

Read: John 11:17-26

John 11:17-26
New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Start:

Consider: This is a remarkable account of resurrection. But it is not the story of one resurrection. We find three of them in this story.

If you are not familiar with this event, read John 11:1-44 and you’ll find that Jesus brought his friend, Lazarus, back from the dead. But today we’re listening to the conversation between Jesus and Martha prior to the raising of Lazarus, which opens our understanding about something much larger than what happened that day.

In the midst of Martha’s grief and deep disappointment that Jesus arrived so late—too late to heal—Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again” (11:23). Martha’s response shows us the hope that had been passed down to her by the prophets and leaders of Israel.

“I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (11:24)

Isaiah had foretold the day when swords will be beaten into plowshares (2:4), when “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard…no more” (65:19), when this earth will be made into “a new earth” (65:17) and when “they will neither harm nor destroy…for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).

Martha believed that. Martha believed that God would heal all wounds and restore all of creation. And we still believe in “the resurrection at the last day.”

In order for us to understand the Season of Advent, we must see Jesus’ First Advent in the context of his Second Advent. We believe that the One who came to us in Bethlehem will come again. We believe that God’s will for this earth is not to destroy it, but to resurrect it. And we believe the new earth—the new kingdom—began when God put on our humanity and came to be one of us.

Jesus raised Lazarus and promised a final resurrection yet to come. Tomorrow we’ll look at the third resurrection that we find in Jesus’ encounter with Martha.

Pray: “Lord, ‘the resurrection at the last day’ is almost too wonderful for me to believe. During this Advent Season help me to somehow embrace the hope you brought at your First Advent. And then empower me, by your Spirit, to participate in the preparation for your return when all things will be made new (Revelation 21:5).”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Saturday, November 19

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, of JAXNAZ Church

Read: John 12:24

New International Version (NIV)

24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Start

Consider: As we saw yesterday, we have to grow down to grow up. Scripture and life repeatedly teach this. And sometimes that growing down is the hardest part of life.

Yesterday we talked about the intentional nature of growing by choosing to go deep. That vital work prepares us for the depths we endure that are not of our own choosing.

We know that birth leads to life. But, spiritually speaking, death also leads to life. Death precedes resurrection. I’m not talking about physical death alone, for even as we live in this flesh, we die so that life may flourish.

We know what it’s like to grow through suffering. Journeys though illness, grief, disappointment, betrayal and disillusionment are journeys through death toward resurrection. As we journey through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), resurrection is rarely visible. It can only be seen through eyes of faith and hope.

But we don’t simply die the deaths that are imposed on us. We choose death. We choose to kill our pride, our arrogance, our self-will. With the help of God, by the power of his Spirit living in us, we continually present ourselves to him, asking him to do away with the old, false self and to resurrect the life of Christ in us.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Pray: “Lord, I submit my will to you. Though I often fear the death of my old self, I rejoice in the new life you bring. Thank you that, in you, death always leads to resurrection.”

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Friday, November 18

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Message by Pastor Phil Stout of JAXNAZ Church

Read: Colossians 2:1-7

New International Version (NIV)

2 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

Spiritual Fullness in Christ
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Start

Consider: You have to grow down to grow up. Roots matter.

Tending to the roots is hard, tedious, consistent, invisible work. The roots are not seen. They don’t clamor for attention. But root-tending makes it possible for a tree to grow and growth makes it possible for that tree, over time, to bear fruit.

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him.” (Colossians 2:7)

What would it look like for you today to do some root-tending? How would you go about growing down? How can you deepen your life in the fertile soil of God’s grace? What does it mean for you to “grow down into him”?

These are important questions because growth in Christ is seldom accidental. That’s not to say that we produce growth in ourselves. Our growth is a gift from God. But we can partner with him. We can break up the hard clods of dirt in our hearts. We can clear the thorns away that choke the plant. We can be intentional in giving fertile soil to God for him to take us deeper.

Often the cry of the heart is, “Take me higher.” We all want to experience the great joy of knowing and seeing God. We want to stand on the mountain with our hands raised high. And our gracious God gives us those experiences from time to time. But we must also include another prayer—“Take me deeper.”

Pray: “Lord, take me deeper. I want my roots to go so deep that the winds of life will not take me down. But even more than that, I want to go deep to know you more fully and love you with all that I am.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Thursday, November 17

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Church

Read: Colossians 2:6-12

New International Version (NIV)

Spiritual Fullness in Christ
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[b] was put off when you were circumcised by[c] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Start

Consider: This week we’ve been considering God as he is presented to us in the New Testament—God who is one and God who is three. Sometimes people ask, “Who should I pray to—the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit?” I always say, “Yes!”

For me, Jesus of Nazareth—the Christ—makes the knowledge of God most accessible. That’s probably true for most people because Jesus was seen, heard and touched with the physical senses. As John said…

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard…” (1 John 1:1-3)

The astounding thing is that when we talk to Jesus, in addition to interacting with the Christ who preceded all things (John 1:1-3), we are praying to our Father and to the Spirit of God who pervades everything, everywhere. As we read today…

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

In light of this amazing reality, Paul gives us a simple, practical, daily, down-to-earth directive.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (2:7-8)

Pray: “Lord, help me to arrange my life—including today—so that I am steadfastly ‘rooted’ and continually ‘built up’ in you. Help me to think and do the things that anchor and build me. And as our brother Paul taught us, I know that this begins with an attitude that is ‘overflowing with thankfulness.’”

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Wednesday, November 16

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Church

Read: John 14:15-20

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

Start

Consider: Yesterday we considered the relationship, fellowship and unity inherent in the Trinity. If this is hard for us to comprehend, imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ first disciples. They were seeing God in the flesh and trying to make sense of it. At one point Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Jesus answered…

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” (14:9-11)

I always picture Philip’s face and the faces of the other disciples upon hearing this. You know the look. Concentration, confusion, grasping, searching. The brow is furrowed and the eyes are narrowed. They were trying to get it straight in their minds. But Jesus was talking about something much deeper than can be grasped by the mind alone. And as they strained their logic, he added…

“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (14:20)

Every morning when I pray, I ask God to help me comprehend what it means to have Christ in me and to be in Christ. And with Christ comes the Father. So I’m really trying to comprehend the Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in me, and me in the Trinity.

Too much for the brain alone. So I pray for an additional kind of “knowledge.” I pray that I may be able…

“…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

Pray: “Lord, help me to ‘know’ that which ‘surpasses knowledge.’ I’m not asking for increased intelligence. I’m not asking for logical conclusions. I’m asking that you would help me increasingly—day by day and year by year—to know what can only be known by unity with you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Tuesday, November 15

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Message by Pastor Phil Stout of JAXNAZ Church

Read: Genesis 1:26-27

Genesis 1:26-27

New International Version (NIV)

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Start

Consider: As we read and consider the simple statement of our creation, there is what seems like a strange little quirk in it.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’” (1:26)

God is presented as plural rather than singular in the very first chapter of the Bible. And how that plays out throughout our scriptures has intrigued us for centuries.

The Old Testament specifically and repeatedly says…

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

This was an important statement to the Hebrews because they lived among nations that served many “gods.” The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob declared, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). And yet, in the New Testament we hear this “one” God described as three—Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 and elsewhere).

Probably all of us have wrestled with this. We’ve tried to grasp this one God who is three. And we’ve come to the conclusion that, on a logical level, it will never make perfect sense to us. That is because God can be known by us, but is beyond our comprehension.

What we take hold of from the New Testament teaching of the Trinity is the dynamic of God. These are not three static “offices” that the Almighty inhabits. These are not three “roles” he assumes. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit teach us that God is relationship. God is fellowship. God is unity. God is three. God is one.

If we, then, are made in the image of the Trinity, we have to ask ourselves what that means in our everyday existence. If God is relationship, fellowship and unity, how do I let this amazing God live in me and through me? How do I fulfill the image in which I am created?

Of course, that is a question that will challenge us for the rest of our lives. But we begin with the simple task of seeing the image of God in one another. We begin by seeing every human being as an image-bearer of God.

Pray: “Lord, I want to live by the design you had for me when you created me. I want to live in the image of my Creator. I want to increasingly comprehend and live the truth that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8).

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Monday, November 14

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional
Written by Pastor Phil Stout JAXNAZ Church

Read: Genesis 1:26-27

New International Version (NIV)

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

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Consider: This week it would be good to read the entire opening chapter of the Bible. But if you do, read it as it was intended to be read. Don’t read it for facts and timetables. Don’t read it for data. Read it for celebration.

The first chapter of Genesis is not a text book. It is a poem. I like to call it the “Song of Creation.” In its original language, it bears the marks of Hebrew poetry. This is a poem, a song, a story that God’s people shared and passed down from generation to generation. It reveals the heart of God and the priorities of God. If we look for the wrong things, if we try to use it to argue about the age of the earth or the chronology of creation, we miss the whole point. We miss the beauty and wonder of God’s creativity.

We typically look at the pinnacle of creation as the formation of man and woman. There is a reason for that. It is not because we are superior physically. We are created from the same “dust” (elements) as the rest of creation (2:7). We are different because the Imago Dei—“the image of God”—defines who we are (1:27).

The writer returns to this truth in the following chapter, telling us that God breathed into us “the breath of life” (2:7). He’s not describing oxygen, for the animals partake in that. In the original languages of our scriptures, the word for “breath” and the word for “spirit” are the same. The “breath of life” is the Spirit of God which uniquely resides in that portion of creation that is made in the image of its Creator. We were made for fellowship, intimacy and unity with our Creator.

Pray: Take some time to step back today and consider your place in creation. Take some deep breaths to remind yourself of the “breath of life”—the “image of God”—that formed you and continues to form you. Thank God that he has created you with the capacity to know him, interact with him and love him.

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Saturday, November 12

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Lead Pastor

Read: James 1:27

James 1:27

New International Version (NIV)

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

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Consider: In the Old Testament there were three groups of people who were singled out by God to be cared for and protected—the widows, the orphans and the immigrants. God commanded his people to serve them. Of course, we know that care for the vulnerable didn’t only apply to these three groups. The command was to care for all of those who are without resources. And God wasn’t kidding. If Israel neglected the widows, orphan and immigrants, they were not considered to be fit to be called the people of God.

While many things have changed, some things remain the same. Many women around the world are abused and suffer for lack of resources and lack of freedom. They find themselves in hellish conditions with no options. Immigrants and refugees are still despised by many. Nations keep closing their borders to men, women and children who have no safety and no home. And, of course, we know that no matter what the social sickness is—war, poverty, displacement, human trafficking, pornography, domestic abuse—those who suffer the most are the children.

As we’ve seen this week, we cannot limit our vision to those who are near to us. We have to look beyond our doors, our borders and our shores. The church of Jesus Christ must live out the call to be the people of God by following God’s heart for the most vulnerable of the world.

Tomorrow is World Orphan Sunday. Churches around the world will weep for the children, pray for the children, and ask God what we must do for the children. Please pray for the Church of Jesus Christ to follow God’s command.

Pray: “Lord, there are no easy answers. Most of the time we feel helpless. Our hearts break for those who suffer, but we don’t know what to do. Please guide us. We can’t do it alone, so we ask you to guide your church. Please use our hands, our feet, our prayers, our money—our hearts—to embrace the most vulnerable in our world.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Friday, November 11

Time Alone With God daily devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ

Read: Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8

Matthew 28:19-20
New International Version (NIV)

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 1:8
New International Version (NIV)

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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“Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We always carry with us the deep, profound conviction that Jesus came for everyone—“all nations.” We cannot stop working as long as there are people who are hungry, both physically and spiritually. Those who are oppressed by the world and oppressed by sin, need to hear the good news that we have received. So we go beyond our home—our “Jerusalem”—out into the “Judea” that surrounds us. We enter into “Samaria”—that place that seems so disgusting and hopeless to our world. And we look even further. We try to envision those we have never met, people who are radically different from us, and we hurt for them, pray for them and try to reach out to them. We don’t see them as “others.” We see them as our sisters and brothers. We reach out to them even if it seems like we’re going “to the ends of the earth.”

Sometimes I hear people say, “Why do we send money and teams overseas when there are so many needs in our own country.” I can think of several reasons. First of all, Jesus never calls us to an “either/or” mentality. We are called to “both/and”—to love those who are near and to love those who are far. We set up a false dichotomy when we imply that we must choose one over the other.

Secondly, all the world is inhabited by God’s children and he loves us all. If those early disciples had not reached toward “the ends of the earth,” you and I would have never heard the good news.

And, again, we must not forget that geography means nothing. Those who are far away are not “other,” they are “us.” If we really believe in the household of faith (Ephesians 2:19), we know that our family is in our homes, in our churches, across town, throughout the nation and around the world.

As we remembered yesterday, this is not an assignment for any one of us. It is an assignment for all of us together. The church—filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit—is sent to the world.

Pray: “Lord, I pray for the church. Help our gaze, our passion and our love to extend beyond what we can naturally see. Help us to love as you love. Expand our thinking, deepen our love and empower us together to be a light to ‘all nations.’”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Tuesday, November 8

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-6
New International Version (NIV)

Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ
4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

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Consider: Sometimes words are so large—their meaning so broad—that we can’t comprehend them with our minds alone. We have to humbly ask the Holy Spirit to translate them to our hearts—to our entire lives. For me, that is the case with Paul’s words about unity in the Body of Christ.

“There is one body and one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all…” (4:4-6)

I’ll be honest. There are a whole lot of believers in Christ that I don’t feel “one with” at all. I disagree with them on theological and ethical issues that are central to my faith. Some have rejected me. (I’ve been accused of being “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” who is leading people astray and destroying the church.) So how do I overcome these feelings of division?

Although this unity that Paul describes is not intelligible on a rational basis alone, I have learned one important principle: unity is love and love is unity.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

I lead a congregation of diverse people with diverse opinions. There are things I believe with which many (perhaps most) of the people in my church would disagree. Yet, we have served Christ together with amazing unity for almost thirty years. How is that possible? I can honestly say that we really love each other.

The church does not demand unanimity of opinion. (If fact, if that is the demand, real unity is destroyed.) But Christ calls us to unity that is based in humility and love. Love for Christ compels us to love one another in the messy, difficult work of the church.

Pray: “Lord, give us a love that transcends our differences. Help us to see that the acid test of love is how it works in real life. Forgive us for the times when our ‘self-ness’ has been larger than our ‘other-ness.’ Thank you that true humility and love free us from ourselves and empower us to see and follow you.”

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Monday, November 7

Time Alone With God Daily Devotional

Written by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ Church

Read: Ephesians 4:1-3

Ephesians 4:1-3
New International Version (NIV)

Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ
4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Start

Consider: Our circumstances can distract us and keep us from seeing life in its proper perspective. Our awareness of God’s love and presence can get sidetracked by the affairs of life. All of us experience and contend with this on a daily basis. (That is one of the reasons it is so important for each of us to make time to be alone with God each day.)

But difficult life circumstances can also be used by God to give us a renewed perspective—a new, true focus. That is also a reality we have all experienced. We’ve received crushing news about a loved one and immediately we knew what was important and what was trivial. We put our minds to prayer to combat our fear of the future and we saw God change our ideas about what kind of future we should want. In great conflict we yearned for peace and then began to discover what real peace is. Yes, our God of amazing grace keeps loving us, teaching us and drawing us to him in the middle of life.

I think the perspective that pain can bring was at the heart of Paul’s words about unity in the Body of Christ. As he wrote to the Ephesian believers about unity, he began by saying…

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (4:1)

What we call the Book of Ephesians is one of Paul’s letters written from prison. Sometimes Paul found himself under house arrest. Other times he was bound in chains and thrown in a dungeon. Paul knew suffering and pain. And because he allowed God to shape his response, prison gave him a clear perspective about what was important for Christ’s church and what simply did not matter.

So from that place in which Paul could see what was really important, he wrote…

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:2-3)

Sometimes we make unity in the Body of Christ a secondary issue. Our needs, our opinions, our preferences, our irritations can become so important to us that we think we are helping the church by pressing those issues. But from prison Paul told us to “be completely humble” and to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (4:3). That’s a perspective that you and I must bring to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Pray: “Forgive me, Lord, when I have forgotten how precious your church—your bride—is to you. When I have wanted the church to serve me more than I wanted to serve the church, I lost perspective. Humble me. Humble us. Teach us to be your body and not simply a collection of body parts.”

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