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God’s Plan & Promise

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“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12

What does God have planned for me? I’m sure that was a question on the minds of the Jewish exiles in Babylon when Jeremiah spoke these words from God. Because of their continuous sin and rebellion against God, the Promised Land was stripped from them and even the temple was eventually burned. All seemed lost. As a people, it seemed that they had no hope, no future.

But even at their lowest point, God offered a word of promise. After a time, God would return them to the land He had promised over a thousand years ago to Abraham. Even though they had forgotten God, God would not forget them. He would remain faithful, and through the family of Abraham, God would send a Savior to the world.

God still makes plans and gives promises to His people, to you. As He declared through Jeremiah, He declares through His word to you that He has plans for your good and not for evil that you would have a future and hope. Our sin is no less significant than those who lived at the time of Jeremiah. And yet God continues to forgive and show mercy.

Because of God’s grace, we can boldly dream about the future that He has planned for us. With hearts filled with gratitude to Him, we commit all that we are and have to His purposes and glory.

Almighty God, we stand in awe of Your faithfulness through all generations. Grant us the boldness to use the gifts that You have given to further Your kingdom now and into eternity for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


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Obstacles

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17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. Romans 16:17-19

I know that I have been appealed to by people with their own appetites and what they want. Many times I have been smooth talked into something that I originally didn’t intend to do out of my own human fault. After this I would feel like such a fool for letting these obstacles get in the way of my faith.

It is so often that things like this happen to all of us but we can overcome such divisions and obstacles in our life. We must remember all of the obstacles Jesus faced. Even He became tempted by the devil in the desert. He overcame all of His obstacles for all of us sinners. Jesus even died on the cross for everyone! If it wasn’t for Him and everything that He has overcome, we would still be dead in our trespasses and sin. We have life through Him and His death and resurrection. This is something to never lose sight of.

We must be wise and keep sight of the cross. Through life there will be many people who try to divide and provide obstacles in our lives. We can do our best to be aware of what is going on and may even need to help each other see when things happen when we may give into smooth talk and the flattery. During these times it is important to not lose sight on Jesus and His eternal message and hope. He is with us through this time and we must continue to pray and have faith in Him and His message. Let’s all share and spread the Good News together and help each other out.

Prayer: Almighty Father, You have provided us with the ability to share the Gospel with all of our neighbors. Be with us so that we may protect one another from the smooth talk of the earthly kingdom when we must keep our eyes set on the eternal heavenly kingdom that Christ has provided us. Amen.

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Running to Share

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30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Luke 24:30-34

I would’ve been hitting my head in this situation. I would feel like such a fool. The guy who was walking with them the whole time was not only someone they knew, but the very person who they were looking for! I don’t know if I would’ve been able to tell anyone this story from so much embarrassment. 

Luckily for us, these men weren’t embarrassed. Instead they were overjoyed with this news. They reflected on the conversation they had with Jesus and realized they should have known it was him. Their hearts burned during their talk and now that they had this great news, they just had to tell someone. So what did they do? They ran about seven miles back to the disciples just to tell them, “He’s alive!”

How great is it then that we get to know this news as well! While we didn’t walk seven miles down the road with Jesus we know he is with us. So let’s tell someone about it! This news is so important that these two were willing to run miles just to tell someone. Right now it might be hard to run anywhere to go tell someone, but we have so many other ways to share. During this time let’s keep telling people about the Good News of Jesus even if we have to do it through means we are not used to. We know he is with us in every situation and this is a time that others need to know that as well.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, thank you for bringing us to a knowledge of Christ. Be with us as we spread the Good News to others and work the same faith in them as you have worked in us. As we go about our lives, be with us to use any moment we can to share Jesus with those around us. Amen. 

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Path to Peace

pathway between trees

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7  (NIV)
 
Only a fool would try to explain a “peace of God which transcends all understanding,” so here goes.  This peace of God is not rationally comprehensible.  You can’t logically explain how a Christian is at peace while her family is in turmoil or her finances are in shambles?  This peace of God is spiritually comprehended.  When God speaks to the believing heart his promise to make all things work out for our good and to give us strength to cope and a way out when we can’t anymore, the Christian experiences peace.  The Word of God is that powerful and the Comforter is that reassuring.

The apostle gives us a path to such peace, beginning with “rejoicing in the Lord.”  The Bible nowhere tells us to rejoice in the circumstances of our life.  Sometimes life stinks.  But we can always rejoice in the Lord who rules our life with grace and truth.  “Gentleness” is not over-reacting to people and events that are upsetting.  When you remember that “the Lord is near,” you quit thinking that you’re facing tough times alone; and his return is near, so how significant are our problems anyway.  Prayer is the apostle’s prescription for dealing with what seems impossible.  Let go of your death-grip on problems and let God handle what you can’t.  “With thanksgiving” is an important notation.  When you’re thanking God for blessings instead of complaining about problems, your heart finds peace far more readily.

This peace of God is a guard against things that mess up your mind and heart, like the guilt and regret and bitterness that make your past a dark cloud hanging over your life.  God’s forgiving love takes care of that stuff.  The peace of God is the guard against doubt and stress and fear that distort your view of the present.  Turn down the demonic sirens in your head, and your heart will find rest.  The peace of God protects your future as well, from worries and what-ifs.  He’s got all that covered.  You don’t have to understand how the peace of God works.  Just look once more into the manger that holds your God in human flesh, see the lengths he went to assure you of his presence and his love.  Peace is with you.
 
OK, God, I get it.  I don’t have to figure everything out and I don’t have to manage everything myself.  Get into my head with Your truth and into my heart with Your love; and let me know Your peace.  Then let that peace seep into my life.  Amen.


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What He Said Week 10

Study Ten:  LOVE IS A VERB

 

TAKING IT IN:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

GETTING AT IT:

Of course, love is a noun describing an emotion. . . better yet, a commitment.  But love needs an object, and that makes it a verb.  And love must express itself in action.  John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”  The world is the object of God’s love.  The gift of Jesus to save the world is God acting out his love.  And that is commitment. 

Similarly, a disciple’s love is focused on the Savior, the object of our love; and that love must express itself.  Worship is one way in which we express our love for Jesus. Shortly before his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus patterned a disciple’s love on the love he has for his Father.  Two dimensions of that love are emphasized.  The first is to stay so close to the One we love that we are inseparable from him.  The second is obedience, voluntarily choosing to be and do what the Savior asks of us.  And Jesus characterizes that obedience, above all, as loving each other. This is a disciple’s commitment.

God’s love for us is at the heart of the Gospel.  Our love for him is the motive and nature of the Christian life.  And love for each other is how that Christian life expresses itself for the world to see. 

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

Here is another of the “I AM” metaphors Jesus used to describe himself and his mission.  A vineyard was a common object lesson in Scripture.  Psalm 80:8-16 and Isaiah 5:1-7 are examples, where the vineyard is God’s chosen people.  Jesus used the vineyard illustration as an indictment of his unfaithful people (Matthew 21:33-45).  When he calls himself here the true vine, he may be contrasting himself with Israel, for he is faithful.  If these words were spoken in the upper room, his reference might be to the “fruit of the vine” with which he instituted the Lord’s Supper.  And if he spoke these words on the way to his capture in the garden, he and his disciples may have passed the gate of the temple which was adorned with a golden vine.  He, not the temple, is the true vine that connects people with their God.

 

These are the roles in Jesus’ metaphor.  God the Father is the gardener, whose role is to prune branches in order to make them more productive and to cut off unproductive branches that are in reality dead.  Jesus is the vine, which creates and keeps the branches, providing the nourishment that enables them to bear fruit.  Disciples are the branches, who are to cling to the vine and produce increasing fruit. In Scripture, “fruit” means both acts of love and service (Matthew 7:16-20) and the virtues of Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23).  Fruit is the result of being saved by Jesus.  Hebrews 6:9 uses the expression “things that accompany salvation.”  It is worth thinking about the fact that branches simply express what they are in bearing grapes.  It is in the nature of Jesus’ followers to bear Christian fruit.

 

Here are the lessons in Jesus’ metaphor:

  • There is no such thing as a fruitless Christian. In whatever form and to whatever degree, Christians serve God and others.  No fruit at all means no Christian.  (verse 2)
  • Pruning may hurt, but it is necessary to our purpose in life. Pruning includes the hard lessons of repentance, the trials that are a part of life in a fallen world, and the hardships that may come as a result of confessing Christ.  We become more godly and more effective in our witness as a result of such pruning.  (verse 2)
  • The sins that would separate us from Jesus the Vine have been cleansed away by the Gospel of his perfect life and redeeming death for us. (The word translated “prune” is also translated “clean.”)  (verse 3)
  • While we don’t choose or decide to be a branch connected to Jesus by faith, remaining with Jesus is a choice. (verse 4)
  • On our own, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that pleases God. Good works, acts that honor God, are a fruit of faith.  (verses 4-5)
  • Becoming more fruitful, growing in our faith and its expression, is Jesus’ intent and our goal in life. (verse 5)
  • The decision not to remain connected to Jesus by faith and not to bear fruit ends in flames, eternal flames. (verse 6)
  • When we remain with Jesus in faith and know his Word, our prayers are answered according to Jesus’ will – which is for us to grow and serve. (verse 7)
  • The Christian life has two chief goals – to give glory to God and to witness to Jesus. (verse 8)

 

 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

Jesus now helps his first disciples and us to understand what the commitment of discipleship means.  Again, bullet points may be the best way to apply his words.

  • Knowing that Jesus and his Father love you is essential to the Christian life. Insecurity and doubt rob us of the will and power to live as disciples.  We remain in the love of Jesus as we are continually reminded by his Word of all that his love means.  (verse 9)
  • Loving obedience to Jesus’ words, not slavish obedience, keeps the love connection to Jesus strong. The loving obedience of Jesus on earth to his Father in heaven is the pattern for our relationship with Jesus.  (verse 10)
  • Loving obedience brings ever-increasing joy, the kind of joy that Jesus experienced in his obedience to his Father. When we see life the way Jesus’ does, we find joy in living life Jesus’ way.  (verse 11)
  • Selfless love for other Christians, like the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, is the most apparent obedience to Jesus. (verse 12)
  • Jesus’ love was epitomized in his death for his followers. In times of persecution Christians may similarly choose death rather than betray their brothers and sisters in faith.  In 1 John 3:16 the apostle described love with these words: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  (verse 13)
  • Disciples are more than servants; they are Jesus’ friends, because he has revealed to them the whole of God’s mission on earth. They are insiders who “get it.”  They have bought into the Savior’s mission and are involved in its completion.  (verses 14-15)
  • While common practice in the first century was for a young person to choose a mentor and ask to follow him, Jesus chose his disciples. All who follow Jesus in faith are chosen by God.  We don’t choose him.  Like every other aspect of God’s grace, coming to faith is God’s doing in us, God’s gift to us.  (Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)  (verse 16)
  • The Savior’s purpose in choosing us, calling us to faith, is that we produce the fruit of faith – “life product” that has eternal significance. (verse 16)
  • When we understand our purpose and buy in, our prayers reflect this and are answered. (verse 16)
  • Boiled down, the will and command of Jesus is that Christians love one another. In John 13: 34-35, Jesus put it this way: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   (verse 17)

 

 SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

What does it mean to be loved by God?  How does that truth impact your self-image?  How does it answer your anxieties?  How does God’s love free you from the fear that you’ll look foolish or be criticized for living out your faith?  How does it affect your prayer life? 

What does it mean to be a “friend” of Jesus?  Think about the things that a human friendship adds to your life and ramp those up to what it means to have the Son of God as your friend.  The hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” can help your devotional thinking.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  As you discover the talents with which you were created and the spiritual gifts God has invested in you, talk about how that may inform the “fruit of faith” God designed you uniquely to accomplish in your life.  How does who you are direct what you do in the service of your Lord?

Discuss the connection between loving obedience to Jesus and joy in your life.  We become unhappy people when we disregard or disobey God’s will for us.  Think about the Ten Commandments as directions for joy.  Sin is the ultimate joy-robber.

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

Ask God to show you how he may be glorified in and through your life this week.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

Choose one act of love for another Christian that may be unexpected and that can cause that person to think about Jesus.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Spend time with 1 John 4:7-21 as you go deeper into an understanding of love.
 

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