Category Archives: Devotional

Be Content in All Situations – Philippians 4:11-13

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that there are certain situations I can’t change. More importantly, I can’t change other people. This is the hardest truth to accept, especially because I want to get along with everyone. That’s a natural tendency for most people. These verses hit home:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13, ESV

When it comes to people, I’ve come to understand that I can provide opportunities and facts which may lead to change. “May” is the key word. Just because the opportunity is there, just because the facts as I know them are laid out clearly, that doesn’t mean a person will change. I’m a living example of that truth. There have been plenty of people who have tried to change me over the years, some for good and some for not. The reality is that ultimately they don’t change me for I change myself or God through His Spirit changes me.

Because we have so little control over situations and other people, we can become frustrated, upset, angry, or even sad. We can lament how life is completely unfair (it is due to sin, and that’s another truth), but that doesn’t change the circumstances.

I know Paul experienced these exact feelings. We can see his words in Romans 9-10 and feel the longing he had for the rest of Israel to come to know Jesus Christ and be saved. Paul was even willing to give up his own salvation so that his brethren would have theirs. Yet, it wasn’t his choice. He was a preacher and demonstrator of the Gospel. That was what he was called to do. And in that he learned to be content.

The same applies to us. Life is going to throw us major blows. We are going to see unfairness. We are going to experience disappointment, sorrow, even anger, at what happens around us and to us. But Paul, through everything, found contentment. Contentment isn’t weakness. It isn’t letting things be and doing nothing. Rather, it’s an acceptance that the way things are right now is how they are right now. We know Paul actively worked to spread the Gospel to those who didn’t believe. So contentment isn’t just passively accepting what comes and doing nothing about it.

Paul found contentment in Christ. He could accept the way things were because of Christ. But He also found his purpose and his direction from Christ. Maybe he didn’t like the way things were right then. But he had a Savior that had outlined for him how he should live his life. So do we. In following through, we will see change. We can work for the good of the Kingdom. Over time, some situations and some people will change. Not all, but some. However, if we’re railing away at the unfairness of it all, we aren’t able to make a positive step towards change. We’re stuck where we are. That’s why it’s important to be content in all things. We can only reach that state through Christ. Then, through Christ, we can move forward. That’s what Paul was trying to teach the believers in Philippi. That’s what the Holy Spirit has preserved us to understand today.


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What is the Church supposed to be like?

When I became a Christian, I was blessed to be part of a church which was highly encouraging, which looked to serve its community, and which sought to put new members into areas of ministry fitting their gifts and experience. As a result, I had a first-hand view of what a church should look like.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV

First, note the reason the Church can act the way it should: Jesus. Our hope is in Him. Therefore, how we act, especially when we face opposition, is dependent on how trustworthy Christ is. We are reminded by the writer of Hebrews that Jesus is faithful. Therefore, we can act with confidence, without wavering, in the way in which we should. Keep in mind that when I say opposition, this isn’t necessarily by other people. Laziness, malaise, burnout, a lack of resources, and other things can be our opposition. Even in the face of these things, we should still act in a particular way. So how should we act?

We should consider how to stir one another in two areas: love and good works. When you consider the word for love here is “agapes” that makes a difference. This is the self-sacrificing, putting others first type of love. This is the type of love God demonstrates towards us. So as a Church, we should be spurring one another towards that self-sacrificing type of love. This isn’t just one to another. This is also to our world at large, hence the good deeds command.

We’re also to meet together. This is logical. How can I spur someone else on if I never interact with that person? I can’t. And we know that face-to-face works better than any other means. So gathering together is the best way to spur one another towards love and good deeds. We must meet together.

Finally, we’re supposed to encourage one another. While logically this also comes from the command to practice self-sacrificing love, it is explicitly stated because we all need encouragement. This isn’t to be neglected. We can’t get so caught up in things that we forget to encourage. So yes, we’re supposed to push each other forward. But we can’t forget to support one another in that effort. If I keep pressing someone else to do something, but I’m not there showing I’m supporting them and helping them when they feel down or worn out or unworthy of the task, then I’m doing it completely wrong.

This is what the Church should look like. Each individual church should act like this on the inside and should be this way towards the world outside the church. Let us be the Church that God desires us to be. The way the Church is like this is if our individual churches are like it first. And the way our individual churches are like what the writer of Hebrews described is if we are first that way as individuals. My challenge to us all this week is for us to be the people Hebrews 10:23-25 asks us to be.

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God’s Faithfulness

Our inability to live sin free lives has no impact on God fulfilling His promises. He keeps His promises not because of who we are, but because of who He is. Some folks see this as an excuse to do what they want in their lives. “Oh, I was saved when I was a kid. I know I shouldn’t this, but God forgives me.” If we love Him, though, we understand that such a view is an affront to God and represents a lack of love towards God or a lack of knowledge of who God is and what He finds acceptable. However, even if we try to live a life of full obedience, we find that we won’t. See, just as Paul struggled with sin and wrote about how he found himself doing what he didn’t want to do and not doing what he desired to do, we are the same. We sin, even when we desire otherwise. Yet God remains faithful to deliver His promises in spite of our disobedience.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. – Judges 3:7-10, ESV

The book of Judges reveals a pattern in human behavior, especially that of those who follow after God. Things are well. People start disobeying and choosing evil. God brings judgment against the people. The people, after some time suffering under the punishment that results, call out to God for relief and help. God hears His people and sends relief. This cycle isn’t just limited to the book of Judges. We see it throughout Scripture and we see it in the lives of believers. Just because we are saved doesn’t mean we are suddenly perfect. Yes, that’s still the standard. However, we know we will fall short. We will sin. We will suffer the consequences of that sin. In the midst of those consequences we will cry out to God. We will repent and ask His forgiveness. And He will grant it.

There may still be consequences as the sin works out its effects in our lives and in the lives of others. Every time Israel turned away from God there were lasting consequences. They were made right with God, but the impact of their disobedience was never totally undone. So when God delivers us from our sin, when He forgives us, we should understand that He delivers us from the eternal results of that sin. We stand without condemnation. He will always honor that promise to save us. He does it not because He owes us for loving Him, for what good deeds we’ve done, or who our families are. He carries through because of His own integrity.

That’s a comforting thought. Even when I’ve made a mess of things, I can count on God to forgive me and to redeem me. This isn’t a license to sin but a reassurance that in spite of my sin God remains faithful. He is faithful. He is always faithful. Even when we know without a doubt that we don’t deserve it, He is faithful. Whatever you’re dealing with, He is faithful. Whatever you’ve done, He is faithful. When you sin in the future, He is faithful. Praise God for His faithfulness! Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness in spite of my unfaithfulness!

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God’s Steadfast Love

As a child I disobeyed my parents from time to time, just as any child does. Despite anything I did, they continued to love me. While as that young kid I may have lashed out with, “You don’t love me,” I didn’t ever doubt that they did. I was looking to hurt and few words hurt a parent more than those words. That’s why when we were young and our parents stood a firm line, those words were a powerful weapon at our disposal. With God, we can lash out with those same words. However, God’s love overcomes our disobedience; it covers over our sin. We may utter those words, the Enemy may cause us to think them, but they aren’t true. 

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. – Micah 7:18-20, ESV

Despite our disobedience, God continues to love us. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that while we were in the midst of our disobedience and completely alienated from Him, He went to the Cross for us. His love is a steadfast love. It isn’t dependent on what we do. His acceptance isn’t based on some sort of mythical scales weighing good deeds versus bad. His love is a part of who He is. 

As a result, He pardons our iniquities. This isn’t just a past act. Pardoning and passing over means the action is ongoing. He doesn’t just ignore them. He treads them underfoot. He has compassion on us. He will not hold onto any deserved anger. He will release that anger because of that steadfast love. Such is the promise He makes towards those who believe in His Son. 

This means we aren’t stuck in a performance test. That’s a very freeing thought. It means I can chose to obey because I love God, not because I have to do so. For most people, when there’s a choice between wanting to do and being required to do, they give better results when they want to do. That’s where God’s steadfast love places us. Life all around us may grade us, evaluate us, rank us, and try to tell us our worth by that constant “racking and stacking.” With God there is none of that. There is simply His steadfast love. There is always His steadfast love. Our worth is found in Him. We are His beloved children. That is our identity. 

Whatever life throws at you, there is His steadfast love for you. Whether you score victory after victory or face defeat after defeat today, you remain in His steadfast love. Even if your interactions with others leave you wondering how people could be so mean to each other, He still hasn’t changed in His steadfast love for you. He won’t change. That’s why the prophet Micah referred to it as steadfast. We can count on it, even if it feels like we can’t count on anything else. He loves us with a steadfast love. How amazing!

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Why Is God Not Answering Me?

You’ve prayed. However, you haven’t heard God answer your prayers. You’ve not seen anything to lead you to believe that God has even heard your petition. Why is God silent? Why is He not answering?

When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” – Acts 12:12-15, ESV

Peter had been captured by the Romans. After killing James and seeing how the Jewish religious leaders reacted, Herod ordered Peter imprisioned. Herod’s grand plan was to offer up Peter on Passover, stoke up the crowd, and then execute the follower of Christ. A satisfied populace was easier to rule, after all.

We are told in verse 5 that the Church went earnestly in prayer for Peter’s freedom.  However, that prayer had not been answered. Then it reached the night when Herod would bring Peter out. Still the Church continued in prayer. It was then when God sent an angel to free Peter. So complete was God’s involvement that Peter walked right by two guards without being stopped. God had answered. And God answered in a way that showed only God could have done it. 

Peter’s freedom was completely unexpected. Rhoda is so shocked she leaves Peter at the gate. When she goes and tells the people praying that Peter is there and not in prison, they call her crazy. When she wouldn’t back down, they said she must have seen Peter’s angel. They couldn’t believe Peter had just walked free. 

Sometimes God waits for the perfect timing. God freed Peter at a point where no human could take credit. Sometimes it’s not that God doesn’t hear but it’s that His timing doesn’t coincide with ours. We are impatient and we want an answer RIGHT NOW. But the timing is wrong. So God doesn’t answer, yet. Such was the case with Peter. 

Sometimes God answers in a way we just don’t expect. I’m sure as they prayed, the believers came up with many scenarios on how Peter could be rescued. Some probably even involved Herod having a change of heart. However, it is unlikely that any honestly thought that God would set things up where Peter could just walk out. We are looking for and expecting certain outcomes that we can’t see it when God moves in a different way. That was the case here. 

And sometimes God doesn’t answer in our favor because there’s something bigger at stake. Peter had been grabbed before. Usually it was by the religious leaders. He and John had both been grabbed. But each time they had been let go. They’d been beaten up and ordered to silence, but Peter always came back. Then Herod killed James. The Romans had crucified Jesus and then beheaded James. I’m sure plenty of folks prayed for James. Yet still he went to his death. 

Why didn’t God intervene with James? Consider how fervent the prayers were for Peter. Think about how worried the Church was. Everything changed with James’ death. Who would stay faithful? Who would suddenly take their faith seriously? Those answers would come about due to James’ death. 

And also, sometimes God is answering a different prayer. James’ had his prayer answered. Remember, he sent his mom to plead his case before Jesus so he and his brother, John, could be first in Heaven. Jesus couldn’t give either what they asked for. Those places weren’t His to give. But He did promise that the two brothers would suffer as He did (Matthew 20). Actually, all of them did. 

These are a few of the many reasons we sometimes think God is silent or hard of hearing. He isn’t either of these. God answers in the right time, regardless of whether or not the answer is, “Yes,” or “No.” And He answers in the best way, a way which clearly gives Him all the glory. And sometimes the answer is, “No,” which we don’t accept. Scripture tells us God hears the prayers of His people. If He doesn’t answer right away, there’s one or more reasons for it. When it comes down to it, we just have to trust Him. He will answer. He has a track record of doing so. 

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Finding Hope in Hard Times

We sometimes idealize life. We wonder about how great it would be if we had no troubles. What if there were no challenges? Wouldn’t that be the life? It would be a kind of life, I suppose. However, challenges are what help us grow. We need challenges. We need hard times. 

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. -Romans 5:1-5, ESV

Paul tells us to rejoice in our sufferings. He also tells us why we should. Suffering results in endurance. Endurance develops character. Character produces hope. And that hope is in our God. Because we have that hope, that confidence in His love, we can face anything because we know we have His forgiveness. 

Let’s take a step back and focus on the personal growth. There’s a maxim of the world of chess that one learns more from a lost game than a won one. It’s a simple concept. The loss causes us to examine our actions and choices more closely than we would have had we won. As a result we think through the moves more deeply, are better likely to understand how the game changed for the worse, and therefore become a stronger player. 

Challenges in life do the same thing. They force us to reach further for internal resources we didn’t know we had. They help us to put things in perspective. They cause us to grow in ways we wouldn’t have had we not faced those challenges. They make us better. And they can cause us to rely more on our Savior, deepening our relationship with Him. 

Paul reminds us that even as we are suffering, there is a purpose. There is a reason to have hope. The suffering is necessary to take us from where we are to where we want to be if we want to become more Christ-like. Very few want suffering. Our Lord didn’t want it that long night as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He could have avoided it. He could have returned to heaven and rejected the Cross. However, He chose to embrace the suffering. He chose that path. His choice means we can be forgiven by the Father and saved by grace. 

Therefore, if you are in the midst of hard times, look to Jesus for hope. Embrace His love for you as He can sympathize with us having suffered so greatly Himself. Know there’s a reason for your struggle. It’s not in vain. That hardship and pain is necessary for you to grow. Not only can you grow personally, but you can also grow in your relationship with our Savior. That is a mighty hope indeed. 

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A People Who Will Forgive

Called to be like Christ, we are to forgive like He forgives. But what if the act in need of forgiveness is unthinkable? For instance, how do you handle a man who has done you or your loved ones harm? What if he is responsible for their deaths? 

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 9:13-17, ESV

This Saul is the one who would take the name Paul. He is the same Paul who wrote about Jesus’ grace and forgiveness and preached it at every opportunity. However, as the broken Saul, he didn’t just need forgiveness from God. He needed forgiveness from God’s people. After all, he was responsible for their persecution and at least one death. God’s people had to forgive him in order for Saul to become the Paul we know about from the New Testsment. It all started with Ananias. 

Ananias had every reason to be afraid of Saul. Who could blame him for distrusting the one who came bearing papers to round up Christians? Yet this is what God asked Ananias to do. God asked Anaias to forgive Saul. More importantly, God asked Ananias to trust Him even when the circumstances would lead one to reject Saul and his supposed conversion. Forgiveness often involves risk on our parts. And just as He asked Ananias to trust Him, God asks the same of us. 

Ananias did trust God. He put Saul’s past in the past. Then Ananias went forward in the present for the benefit of Saul’s and the Church’s future. Apart from Ananias going to Saul and healing him of his blindness, we don’t know much else about the man. Saul, now known as Paul, described him as a devout man in Acts 22. That’s all we have. There was no fame or fortune in that decision to trust God and forgive Saul. There was no side benefit. There was simply obedience to the Savior whom Ananias loved. Ananias risked his life for that love. 

The Bible commands us over and over again to be a forgiving people. We as individuals are to be quick to forgive. There are no strings attached. A person doesn’t have to undo a wrong. He or she doesn’t even have to “learn their lesson.” By forgiving we may put ourselves potentially at harm. We are still expected to forgive. If we want to be like our first love, Jesus, this is an aspiration worthy of striving for. It is a quality which draws us to Him. It is something that causes us to love Him. His forgiveness is an aspect of His nobility and divinity. Therefore, just as we serve a God who is willing to forgive, let us be a people who are willing to forgive as well. 

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