Daily Devotional

  • Explanations for the “Know When to Change Course” Reading - Sunday, February 18th

    My name is Ken Hart. Our church started providing Daily Devotionals at the end of 2014. It has my been my privilege to put them together over this time period and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with this ministry as we go forward. The Devotionals run Monday through Friday. Back around Thanksgiving I started posting stories on holidays and weekends. Stories are a big part of my work world. I have been a hospice Chaplain for over 8 years and the people I care for relate very well to stories. Going forward for a while, I thought I would post some of these stories on Saturdays and share on Sundays how I apply them to those I care for. The kind of needs I address day after day are universal and I am confident that the things I share on weekends will be helpful to everyone. This sharing coupled with the weekday Devotionals will give us something to relate to every day of each week.

    Yesterday’s post is the sixth story I use in my work that I wanted to tell you about. A light house doesn’t move out of the way for a ship, does it. Rather, the ship must move out of the way of the light house. Now, people everywhere are drawn to light houses. In the settings in which we find them, they are particularly beautiful and appealing. However, the point of the light house shining its light is so that ships will avoid the location of the light house. The light house light shines to show ships what to avoid, the dangerous area around the light house. Without the light of the light house ships would crash on the rocks in stormy weather.

    There is so much in life that this story speaks to. God is like the lighthouse. However, he shines his light for us not just to keep us from crashing on the rocks but to show us the right way to go as well. Like, the captain of the battleship, we often misinterpret his light. We easily miss the protective nature of the light he shines on our lives because of our suspicion that to heed it would to be to miss out. We often miss the guidance of his light because we mistakenly think we are wise enough to go it alone. This is why we frequently get off course and sometimes even crash on the rocks.

    Whether we are off course or have crashed on the rocks because we have not needed God’s light, he is ready and waiting to set our lives straight. Truly, we need to say to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Through the intervention of the light of his Word and the illumination of his spirit, he will bring about for us life as it was meant to be. Sometimes life as it was meant to be includes experiences with things that are difficult and painful. Somehow, we instinctively know we need God’s peace, comfort, and strength in the midst of trials. But perhaps we need to start with peace with God before we can fully receive the peace of God. Peace with God comes through forgiveness in Christ. This kind of peace sets things right and makes us feel totally at home with God’s will and his ways. Remember, it is our course that needs to be adjusted and not God’s.

    Once again we see the workings of faith in God. As a hospice Chaplain I consistently talk about faith in two ways. First, faith is the assurance that God loves us and is with us in Spirit every moment of every day he gives to us and is always helping us get through life in the best way possible. In whatever we face, God majors on producing in us a great sense of well-being by providing the peace and comfort of his presence. Second, faith is the assurance that in addition to his being with us in Spirit while we are here, we will be with him forever in Heaven someday when he is ready for us and says, “come on home.” These assurances are a great source of peace and comfort for us, but all of this comes to us because we have because we have experienced peace with God through forgiveness in Christ.

    The stories I share with the people I visit, allow me to share again and again this two-fold understanding of faith from different angles. Each week I will share them with you and it is my hope that the lessons of faith gained from them will bless your life in special ways.

  • A Reading for Saturday, February 17th - "Know When to Change Course "

    Know When to Change Course

    A battleship had been at sea on training maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

    Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported. “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

    “Is it steady or moving a stern?” the captain called out.

    The lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant it was on a collision course with their ship.

    The captain then shouted to the signalman, “Signal the ship: We are on a collision course. Advise you to change course 20 degrees.”

    Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”

    In reply, the captain said, Send: I’m a ship’s Captain. Change course 20 degrees.“

    “I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply, “You had better change course 20 degrees, now!”

    By that time, the captain was furious. He spit out a command, “Send: This is a battleship. Change your course immediately.”

    Back came the flashing lights reply: “This is a light house!”

    The battleship changed course.


    Check tomorrow's post for some explanations about this reading. 

  • The Life of Christ - On the Job Training (5) - Friday, February 16th

    When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured. Mark 6:47-56

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Jesus had gone to the mountain to pray after the feeding of the five thousand. This was after he had his disciples go ahead by boat to Bethsaida on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and he had sent the crowds away. Now he has come down from the mountain and is alone at the water’s edge where he plans to walk across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida. Jesus catches up with his disciples in the middle of the sea where he sees them straining at the oars because of the fierce wind. Jesus was intending to pass by them but they see him and cry out in terror, thinking it was a ghost.

    Our passage describes what happens next in this way, “But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped.” And what was the disciples’ response to all this? Here’s what our passage has to say about it, “they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.” You see, astonishment is being surprised and questioning, “how can this be?” Astonishment is seeing Jesus walking on water and knowing he arrived in the middle of the sea without a boat, but concluding, “it makes no sense.”

    Astonishment is not awe, worship, surrender, and devotion. Yes, these men are Jesus’ disciples. They did leave what they had been doing with their lives to follow Jesus and to be “with him.” But why have they not yet moved beyond mere astonishment in their response to Jesus? Why did they not gain any insight from the incident of the loaves (not to mention everything else they have seen Jesus do so far)? We are told it is because of hardness of heart.

    The disciples have had a ton of on the job training and it will serve them well down the line, but the hardness of their hearts will require a lot more than training. It will not be the miraculous displays of the authority and power of Jesus that will soften their hearts. It will be the suffering of Jesus that will break their hearts. And when it all culminates in the miraculous provision of the cross and the resurrection, the disciples hearts truly will be moved to awe, worship, surrender, and devotion.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, here I am on the other side of the cross and the resurrection. You live in my heart through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so that I am always “with you.” I ask you to do something about the ways my heart is hardened to this reality. Forgive me for facing the challenges of the “wind and sea” experiences of my life without fully counting on you and the difference you make. I seek to be before you in awe, worship, surrender, and devotion. Amen!

    Be sure to check out the special posts for this coming Saturday and Sunday. 

  • The Life of Christ - On the Job Training (4) - Thursday, February, 15th

    The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But He answered them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. There were five thousand men who ate the loaves. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. Mark 6:33-46

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s passage gives us the story of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. The attempt of Jesus and his disciples to get away to a secluded place to rest (and grieve over the death of John the Baptist) leads to this amazing event. It seems that before they had even arrived at their destination a significantly large crowd had gathered. When Jesus, very tired and grief-stricken, stepped on shore, he came face to face with this large crowd. There would be no resting or dealing with grief this day. Jesus’ focus immediately turned from the disciples’ and his needs to those of the crowd. Our passage captures it this way, “He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus shepherds these people before he feeds them.

    Yes, being there to see the miracle of his feeding this crowd with just five loaves and two fish would be pretty amazing. But how about hearing Jesus teach this spirituality hungry crowd “many things” until it was very late in the day? We must not miss the fact that a spiritual meal preceded the “loaves and fishes” meal. The account of this story in the Gospel of John tells us that the crowds were again seeking Jesus the very next day. Here is what the Gospel of John tells us Jesus said to them, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal’ …. Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.’”

    There was a lot of on the job training for the disciples in the place of seclusion to which Jesus and they retreated. We are struck by how slow the disciples were to comprehend. And now from the Gospel of John we are struck by how slow the crowds were to believe. After being before Jesus, who, with a heart of compassion and the heart of a shepherd, taught them until late in the day, all they remember is “the food which perishes” and not “the food which endures to eternal life.” We would like to think we would have done better if we had been there. Surely we would have believed; surely we would have comprehended. Here we are today, though, and how are we doing now with believing and comprehending? With a heart of compassion and the heart of a shepherd, Jesus bids us to come to him and receive the fullness of what he has to give right here and now so that we will no longer Hunger or thirst.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for your compassion and thank you for your shepherd’s heart. I come to you. Please draw me close. Speak into my heart and life in such a way that all unbelief and lack of comprehension vanish. I choose “the food that endures to eternal life” over “the food that perishes.” Have your way fully with me that I might live fully for you. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - On the Job Training (3) - Wednesday, February 14th

    And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:14-29

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Early in our series we were introduced to John the Baptist and it was said of him that he would “Make ready the way of the Lord.” We were told that in his preaching he said, “After me one is coming one who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” It was noted that these words also occur in each of the other three Gospels. It was also noted that the Gospel of John includes words of John the Baptist that express a similar thought, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

    We then saw that John was taken into custody and that Jesus began preaching the gospel of God in Galilee at this point. With John’s imprisonment comes a set of things that happen to him that very graphically depict his decrease. Today’s passage gives us the detail of what happened to John the Baptist. It is not likely that John knew ahead of time that things would go south for him in the way that they did nor that he would be so thoroughly out of the picture so soon after Jesus began his earthly ministry.

    It is interesting that the author of the Gospel of Mark chooses to tell his readers about the death of John the Baptist at this juncture. It actually occurs in the text between where we are told the apostles are sent out and where we are told they return and report to Jesus. Today’s passage about John the Baptist’s death begins with these words, “And King Herod heard of it, for his name (Jesus Christ) had become well known.” Perhaps, it is the combination of the ministry of Jesus and his sent ones that has made the name of Jesus Christ well known. The Gospel of Luke has the sent ones of Jesus returning and saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.”

    The name of Jesus Christ and all his miraculous powers become well known even to King Herod. This leads him and many others to conclude that Jesus is John the Baptist, raised from the dead. We saw yesterday that after the apostle’s sent out experience was concluded, they and Jesus went away by boat to a secluded place to rest. The Gospel of Matthew adds some additional insight about their withdrawal with these words, “Now when Jesus heard about John, he withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place.” So, we see that in the mix of all that is happening here is the grief Jesus and the apostles are experiencing with the martyrdom of John the Baptist. John was Jesus’ cousin. John was the one who prepared the way for Jesus. Jesus and John were very closely connected. This was a painful loss for Jesus.

    It is also a reality check for the apostles. They are closely connected to Jesus and being closely connected to Jesus is evidently very risky business. Having just returned from going out in the name of Jesus Christ their risk exposure is quite high. This is certainly great preparation for them in all that they will face after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ when they take the gospel everywhere and suffer for it.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, grant me the boldness to live my life fully in the name of Jesus Christ. I certainly don’t anticipate martyrdom, but as your follower I want you to know I am willing to follow you anywhere, even into death and martyrdom. It is all about you, Lord, and I want my life to count fully for the sake of your name and your glorious kingdom. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - On the Job Training (2) - Tuesday, February 13th

    And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt— but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that men should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them …. The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. Mark 6:7-13, 30-32

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We are many years forward from the early days of Jesus establishing his kingdom and training his followers to participate in its advancement. In today’s passage the twelve apostles are experiencing on the job training as Jesus sends them out to participate in kingdom work. The account of the apostles “sending” experience in today’s passage includes a lot of details. Keep in mind that Jesus is actually present with the apostles, they are twelve uniquely appointed apostles, and that the provision of the cross is still ahead. These factors contribute to why many of these details are not likely to be a part of how Jesus prepares us today to participate in the advancement of his kingdom. For most of us we will do well to focus on the essentials.

    As Christ-followers, we are expected to participate in kingdom work. Because of this, Jesus always stands ready to provide on the job training. Jesus is with us today through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Just as his inner-circle of disciples were appointed to be “with him,” so are we today. We can regularly come into the inner sanctuary of prayer to hang out with Jesus and let him build us into devoted and prepared disciples he can use for the sake of his kingdom that is still going forward sure and strong all these centuries later. Like the apostles, we also are “sent” ones who go out to so live before others that they see the difference Jesus makes in our lives for our having been “with him.” With those who are responsive, we share (the gospel) how they, too, can become a Christ-follower appointed to be “with him” and to so live for him.

    Like the apostles, some people receive us and some don’t. Unbelief and rejection are to be expected but we always hope for more. When the apostles returned from their experience of being sent out they reported to Jesus all that happened. In addition, at Jesus’ instruction, they went away to a secluded spot to rest. This two things are important in our training to become effective kingdom workers. Unique to us, we can combine these two things. We need to regularly get away from it all and find rest in the presence of Jesus. As we experience the peace and quietness of his presence, we can report to him all they ways we see our lives touching others for the sake of his kingdom.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I come into the inner sanctuary of prayer to be with you and to let you build yourself into my life more fully and completely. Help me to become a more devoted disciple who is more fully prepared for you to use for the sake of your kingdom. Help me be more in tune with the ways my life can make a difference for your kingdom. I look forward to restful times alone with you where we review together all the ways my life is advancing your kingdom in the lives of others. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - On the Job Training (1) - Monday, February 12th

    Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching. Mark 6:1-6

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    When Jesus appointed the twelve Apostles he said of them that they would be “with him,” he would send them out to preach, and they would have authority to cast out demons. They have been “with him” now for awhile and the time has come for them to be sent out. We will see the account of this in tomorrow’s passage. But first we have today’s passage. It is a very interesting account of Jesus, with his disciples following him, going to his hometown (Nazareth). The response Jesus gets here is puzzling but it serves as additional preparation for the apostles being sent out on their own to minister and it has important lessons for us as well.

    For the apostles, this experience prepared them for the reality that in their ministry, they would sometimes face unbelief and rejection (more tomorrow). How about us? What lessons does today’s passage have for us? It may be that we don’t preach or cast out demons, but as Christ-followers we have been appointed to be “with him.” We are also “sent” ones who so live before others that they see the difference Jesus makes in our lives for our having been “with him.” With those who are responsive, we share how they, too, can become a Christ-follower appointed to be “with him” and so live for him.

    But there will be those who respond negatively and nowhere is this more prominent than in our hometown, among our own relatives, and in our own household. These are the ones who know us best and remember us from before. Now, while the past for Jesus did not include sin and failure, his past was “normal,” so to speak. They said of him, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And now Jesus comes to them out of character, so to speak. They say, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? We are told they “they took offense at him.” Jesus is out of character and they can’t handle it.

    Isn’t this our experience, too, with the people who know us best and remember us from before. They want to know where did all this spiritual stuff come from and what’s all this change that has taken us out of character. They just can’t handle the difference and they take offence. We are told that Jesus couldn’t do much there and he wondered at their unbelief. It is helpful to know there is nothing strange about hometown people, relatives, and our families taking offence at us as Christ-followers. It is comforting to know that Jesus experienced similar unbelief and rejection. He will show us the way to faithfully live out our faith before the people who know us best and remember us from before.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, there are people in my life like those in today’s story and they are the ones who resist my following you the most. It’s hard, it hurts, and it is so disappointing. I know you know all about it. Please give me extra strength and comfort today. Help me to be more patient, understanding, and kind. I depend on you, Lord, for all that I need. Amen!

    Be sure to check out the special posts from this past Saturday and Sunday

  • Explanations for the “This is Good ” Reading - Sunday, February 11th

    Explanations for the “This is Good ” Reading

    My name is Ken Hart. Our church started providing Daily Devotionals at the end of 2014. It has my been my privilege to put them together over this time period and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with this ministry as we go forward. The Devotionals run Monday through Friday. Back around Thanksgiving I started posting stories on holidays and weekends. Stories are a big part of my work world. I have been a hospice Chaplain for over 8 years and the people I care for relate very well to stories. Going forward for a while, I thought I would post some of these stories on Saturdays and share on Sundays how I apply them to those I care for. The kind of needs I address day after day are universal and I am confident that the things I share on weekends will be helpful to everyone. This sharing coupled with the weekday Devotionals will give us something to relate to every day of each week.

    Yesterday’s post is the fifth story I use in my work that I wanted to tell you about. Yes, the king’s friend would have been cannibal stew if he hadn’t been in jail, just as the king would have been, if not for his missing thumb. A missing thumb and a year in jail are pretty tough experiences and yet if the men in our story were told up front that these things would become the means for their lives to be spared, they would accept thee lesser outcomes readily. But herein lies a dilemma of life; we face tough experiences without knowing ahead how things will play out. We are much more oriented at such times to say “this is bad” than we are to say, “this is good.” Truly, at such times we cannot begin to see the good of these things that come our way and to be forthright, we don’t really think there could ever be any good come from such tough experiences.

    Could the friend of the king in our story be right about boldly addressing things in life with the words, “this is good?” He was certainly justified in doing so with the two tough experiences that saved his life and the king’s life. But would he always be right in addressing everything in this way? Romans 8:28 says, “God works all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purposes.” This verse is not saying that all things are good, but rather that God uses all things for our good. Perhaps, this is the spirit of the words of the king’s friend; not that a bad thing is good, but rather good will come from the bad thing experienced.

    If we think of it in this way, then it all becomes a matter of faith. Faith leads us to look for how God is at work using all things for our good. When faith brings this assurance to us we rest easy. Even if it turns out that we don’t see, this side of glory, the good God is working out for us, we will gain a deep and abiding sense of well-being when we rest securely in God’s comprehensive care.

    Once again we see the workings of faith in God. As a hospice Chaplain I consistently talk about faith in two ways. First, faith is the assurance that God loves us and is with us in Spirit every moment of every day he gives to us and is always helping us get through life in the best way possible. In whatever we face, God majors on producing in us a great sense of well-being by providing the peace and comfort of his presence. Second, faith is the assurance that in addition to his being with us in Spirit while we are here, we will be with him forever in Heaven someday when he is ready for us and says, “come on home.” These assurances are a great source of peace and comfort for us.

    The stories I share with the people I visit, allow me to share again and again this two-fold understanding of faith from different angles. Each week I will share them with you and it is my hope that the lessons of faith gained from them will bless your life in special ways.

  • A Reading for Saturday, February 10th - "This is Good"


    This Is Good

    The story is told of a African King who had a close friend with whom he grew up.

    The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, "This is good!"

    One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off.

    Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, "This is good!" To which the king replied - "No, this is not good!" and proceeded to send his friend to jail.

    About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.

    As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. "You were right," he said, "it was good that my thumb was blown off." And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened.

    " And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this." "No," his friend replied, "This is good!" "What do you mean, 'This is good'? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?" "If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you, and not here with you right now."

    Check tomorrow's post for some explanations about this reading

  • The Life of Christ - Developing an Inner Circle of Followers (5) - Friday, February 9th

    On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” Mark 4:35-41

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Jesus came to make a mighty difference in this world by making a mighty difference in the lives of those who are inhabitants of this world. Jesus made it possible for us to be reconnected to God through redemption, indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and launched into a lifelong process of being transformed from the inside out. This is how Jesus makes the difference he came to make and it happens for each inhabitant of this world who fully embraces him by faith. Our embracing Jesus for the difference he came to make is very much dependent on our embracing him for who he truly is.

    At the end of the disciples experience with Jesus on the sea of Galilee, they ask the all-important question, “who then is this?” They are learning that he is the Master of the universe and the Master of the spiritual kingdom he is preparing them to serve and advance. Today’s account helps the disciples then and us as his disciples today to consider three attributes of God that are true of Jesus who is indeed God in the flesh.

    Jesus had them cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee because he knew they would encounter the storm. How did he know this? He knew it because as God, the Son, he is all-knowing. He not only knew about the storm but he knew the storm was exactly what his disciples needed to experience. In the midst of the severe storm that caused the disciples to fear for their lives, Jesus slept. His sleeping caused the disciples to doubt that he cared and yet he slept precisely because he cared deeply about them and the faith development that would come about in them as a result. Jesus was able to care to such a great extent, because as God, the Son, he is all-loving.

    And finally, Jesus mastered the sea with the simple words, “Hush, be still.” He was able to do this because as God, the Son, he is all-powerful. Truly, Jesus is the all- knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Son of God. We are following Jesus and in our following him we will encounter storms (some very severe) as we live to serve and advance his kingdom. At such times we must particularly live in the reality of “who Jesus is.”

    Remember, Jesus “knows” about each storm before it ever arrives and he “knows” exactly what we need to experience from it. Remember, whatever he is accomplishing through the storm, even when we think he is asleep on the job because of his apparent lack of response to our peril, it is fully an expression of his love for us. Remember, he will powerfully deal with our storms in whatever way fits in best with that which he is lovingly accomplishing as the result of his knowing exactly what we need for our good, the sake of his kingdom, and his ultimate glory.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, you are master of my heart, master of my life, and master of my world. Help me get my eyes off of myself and onto you. I embrace you for all that you are (all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful) and for all that you can do. By faith I count on you for the difference you came to make in this world and all that means for my life today. Truly, you are the Master of the storms of my life and I trust you fully right now. Amen!

     Be sure to check out the special posts for this coming Saturday and Sunday. 

  • The Life of Christ - Developing an Inner Circle of Followers (4) - Thursday, February 8th

    And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.” With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples. Mark 4:30-34

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s passage addresses our need to “picture the kingdom of God.” The center piece of God’s kingdom is the new covenant which focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit. Through the forgiveness of our sins God comes to dwell in us by the Holy Spirit and works to produce the righteous life in us that was not possible through the old covenant. All those who enter into this Divine enterprise are members of God’s kingdom. The features of God’s kingdom are first those that are of a spiritual, inward, and personal nature – that is, the heart. This is the kingdom in view from His first coming until His second coming. The kingdom that is in view at the second coming of Christ will include added features that are of an earthly, outward, and universal nature. Christ will then rule and reign on earth as King but always the central feature of God’s kingdom is his rule over the hearts of willing people who have received redemption provided through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

    Jesus makes it clear that His Kingdom (from his first coming until his second coming) is not of this world. But this does not mean it is not operating in this world. Our mission is to bless the world with the kind of love and care God gives to us as His children. When the opportunity comes, we share the message of salvation with those God is using our lives to bless. What an exciting thing it is to be a part of a spiritual kingdom that is influencing and winning the world one person at a time as individual lives are touched and reclaimed for God (good place to remember from today’s passage the image of the tiny mustard seed growing into a great tree that increasingly influences and blesses the world).

    What does the world see when they view those who name the name of Christ. Do they see our light shining in such a way that our good works cause them to give glory to God. As we yield to the Holy Spirit living in us so that we live for Christ and others rather than ourselves, our righteousness will exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees by a long shot. Holy Spirit living is what Christ’s kingdom is all about today. When we walk in step with the Holy Spirit we will have consistently righteous behavior and we will have an inner peace and joy that pervades our inner being and flows out and touches those around us. The impact of this kind of kingdom living must not be underestimated. God is powerfully working through His Spirit to touch the world through His people.

    There will come a day when Jesus will rule the realm of mankind as well as the hearts of mankind. Today is not that day just as it wasn’t when Jesus was here training his disciples regarding his kingdom (He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples). Someday he will return and become King of kings and Lord of lords here on earth. So, we must be about the business of influencing the hearts of the people God brings our way. We do this by serving them and seeking to be a blessing to them in every way possible. With this touch on their lives from us, which runs counter to a culture that dominates and exploits so many, they will want to know the God who empowers us to live so differently and so lovingly. We will then introduce them to Christ and His saving grace and we will know the joy of a person who is reached and transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I am a willing person who has experienced the forgiveness of sins. You live in my heart through the Holy Spirit and I am learning to let you rule over my heart and life. Your plan, your provision, and what you are doing in this world is so much bigger than just me. And yet it includes me and it is thrill to have you at work in my life through the Holy Spirit. Your kingdom is all about the Holy Spirit touching the world through my life and the lives of your people everywhere. May your light, love, and blessing overflow from my life to everyone around me. What a joy and privilege it is serve you and your ever expanding kingdom. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Developing an Inner Circle of Followers (3) - Wednesday, February 7th

    He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables …. As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” Mark 4:1-2A, 10-12

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Large crowds coming to listen to Jesus have been an ongoing thing since the start of his public ministry. Picture people every day coming to check Jesus out while others leave having already checked him out. Let’s go back to Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. It is likely that they all came to check Jesus out and then went back to their nets and tax collecting, respectively. Wonderfully, Jesus sought them out and called them to come and follow him, which they did. Then others did more than just come check Jesus out and then return home. Being drawn to Jesus, they stayed and followed along with him, too.

    It was from this group of followers that Jesus selected his inner-circle of followers including the twelve he appointed as apostles (the twelve apostles include the five he called to follow him early on). Now that the ministry of building a team has been added to his ministry of preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and delivering those with unclean spirits, Jesus begins speaking to the crowds only in parables. When the inner-circle of Jesus asked him about the parables, he said this, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables.”

    The majority of people who make up the crowds are those who come to check out Jesus and then return home. Some are the opposing religious leaders and their cronies. Then there are those who are drawn to him for more than what he might do for them and who have a budding desire to stay and follow along with him. It seems that it is to those who stay and follow him and are with him apart from the crowds, that Jesus explains his parables and reveals the mystery of the kingdom of God. Once again, we need to let the reality that we are in Jesus’ inner-circle as redeemed followers of Christ today settle deep into our souls. Through his written Word and in the sanctuary of personal prayer, we learn from Jesus all about his kingdom and what it means for us to be a part of it today.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for allowing me to be one to whom you have “given the mystery of the kingdom of God.” Through your written Word and through my prayer relationship with you speak into my heart and mind and open up to me more fully than ever before the mystery of your kingdom. I want to live fully for you and your kingdom and I know that you will graciously bring it about. I give to you my love, worship, and surrender. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Developing an Inner Circle of Followers (2) - Tuesday, February 6th

    And He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.” The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables …. Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:20-23A, 31-35

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    After the special time of gathering a small group of disciples to himself and appointing twelve of them to be his apostles, Jesus heads home with them. You may recall that Jesus had previously been staying at the home of Simon (Peter) and Andrew. Their home in Capernaum was headquarters for Jesus and his ministry throughout the region of Galilee. Once again the crowd gathered and it was so large that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat a meal. This problem created by the size of the crowd was probably slightly more an issue of time than of space. In other words, the ministry demands of such a large crowd kept them from having time to even eat a meal.

    Evidently, reports of the craziness of what’s happening in Capernaum have reached Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. His family heads for Capernaum (about 20 miles) to take custody of Jesus because they think he has lost his senses. Scribes from Jerusalem are in the crowd accusing Jesus of being in cahoots with the devil. With his inner- circle of disciples nearby, a crowd gathered that includes the Jerusalem opposition, and his family soon to arrive, Jesus “called them to himself and began speaking in parables to deal with the situation.”

    Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers arrived outside the house. Word was sent to Jesus that they were looking for him. In response Jesus spoke these very pointed and powerful words, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” This pronouncement served as a call to all, a lesson to his family, and reinforcement to his inner-circle. Has it struck you yet, that you are in his inner-circle as a redeemed follower of Christ today. As Christ-followers we are committed to and seeking to do the will of God through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As such, we are family to Jesus and he always speaks clearly and directly into our hearts and lives day by day as we walk in intimate and continuous fellowship with our wonderful Lord and Master.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, it is quite a thing to look back and see the wonderful way you were at work building into the lives of your people. Help me to see more clearly and embrace more fully how you are seeking to work at investing in me and building the good things of your Spirit into my life today. You are my Lord and Master and I give you full control. Draw me close, help me sense your presence, speak into my life, and empower me to do your will. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Developing an Inner Circle of Followers (1) - Monday, February 5th

    And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. Mark 3:13-19

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We are in our fifth week of our Devotionals on the Life of Christ as seen in the Gospel of Mark. We will be looking at a number of passages in chapters 3 and 4 of Mark throughout the week. In our considerations this week we are dealing with a significant shift in the ministry of Jesus. Today’s passage tells us that he went up on the mountain. Luke’s account tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray and that he spent the whole night in prayer to God. So, it is in the morning that Jesus “summoned those whom he himself wanted, and they came to him.” We have seen how large numbers of people have been coming out to see Jesus. Out of all those who had been coming to check Jesus out, there are a smaller number who stick with him and follow him as he travels around.

    It is not hard to imagine that while Jesus is up on the mountain praying all night, this group of followers is camped out and asleep at the base of the mountain. It is out of this group of followers that Jesus “summoned those whom he himself wanted, and they came to him.” Our passage tells us that from out of this select group, Jesus then “appointed the twelve.” This selection process of determining this smaller group and appointing the twelve was the product of an entire night of Jesus seeking his Heavenly Father’s face in prayer.

    The Gospel of Mark told us previously that when Jesus began his public ministry, he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus came to establish and build the kingdom of God. It is not enough to preach to the multitudes and to demonstrate his power and authority through healing and deliverance. Jesus knew it was necessary to reach and build a team of followers who would be equipped to perpetuate a cycle of reaching and building a team of Christ-followers that would keep on going for centuries to come.

    So, Jesus began developing a inner circle of followers. Regarding the twelve he says this: “so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons.” What wonderful words, “so that they would be with Him.” This is the key to everything. We like the idea of hanging out with Jesus and letting him build us into all that we need to be. Well he is still at work letting us “be with him” and building us into devoted disciples. We have an inner sanctuary of prayer in which we can hang out with Jesus and let him build his life into ours.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I come into the inner sanctuary of prayer to be with you and to let you build yourself into my life more fully and completely. Help me to become a more devoted disciple who you can use for the sake of your kingdom that is still going forward sure and strong all these centuries later. Thank you for my connections with other disciples (teams) who are following you in this same way. Amen!

    Be sure to check out the special posts from this past Saturday and Sunday.

  • Explanations for the “Helping Hands” Reading - Sunday, February 4th

    Explanations for the “Helping Hands” Reading -

    My name is Ken Hart. Our church started providing Daily Devotionals at the end of 2014. It has my been my privilege to put them together over this time period and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with this ministry as we go forward. The Devotionals run Monday through Friday. Back around Thanksgiving I started posting stories on holidays and weekends. Stories are a big part of my work world. I have been a hospice Chaplain for over 8 years and the people I care for relate very well to stories. Going forward for a while, I thought I would post some of these stories on Saturdays and share on Sundays how I apply them to those I care for. The kind of needs I address day after day are universal and I am confident that the things I share on weekends will be helpful to everyone. This sharing coupled with the weekday Devotionals will give us something to relate to every day of each week.

    Yesterday’s post is the fourth story I use in my work that I wanted to tell you about. Helping hands are important to all of us. Sometimes we extend helping hands to others and some others extend helping hands to us. Consider all the people you have helped and all those who helped you throughout your lifetime. Helping hands are a necessity in life (particularly for those who have reached a place of diminished capacity in their lives). The help we receive from other people means a lot to us, but the most meaningful help of all is the help we receive from God. He is the Master and we are the novice. With the assistance of his skillful hands, beautiful music comes forth from our lives.

    Helping hands are a powerful image that remind us of the daily help we receive from God and other people. But they also remind us of how Jesus willing stretched out his hands and allowed himself to be nailed to the cross to provide the greatest help of all. Jesus died on the cross to secure for us forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the gift of Heaven. Truly, our faith assures us that we are in good hands now and forever.

    Once again we see the workings of faith in God. As a hospice Chaplain I consistently talk about faith in two ways. First, faith is the assurance that God loves us and is with us in Spirit every moment of every day he gives to us and is always helping us get through life in the best way possible. In whatever we face, God majors on producing in us a great sense of well-being by providing the peace and comfort of his presence. Second, faith is the assurance that in addition to his being with us in Spirit while we are here, we will be with him forever in Heaven someday when he is ready for us and says, “come on home.” These assurances are a great source of peace and comfort for us.

    The stories I share with the people I visit, allow me to share again and again this two-fold understanding of faith from different angles. Each week I will share continue to share them with you and it is my hope that the lessons of faith gained from them will bless your life in special ways.

  • A Reading for Saturday, February 3rd - "Helping Hands"

    Helping Hands

     A mother, wishing to encourage her son's progress at the piano, bought tickets to a performance by the great Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski. When the evening arrived, they found their seats near the front of the concert hall and eyed the majestic Steinway waiting on the stage. Soon the mother found a friend to talk to, and the boy slipped away.

    At eight o'clock, the lights in the auditorium began to dim, the spotlights came on, and only then did they notice the boy - up on the piano bench, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." His mother gasped in shock and embarrassment but, before she could retrieve her son, the master himself appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the keyboard.

    He whispered gently to the boy, "Don't quit. Keep playing." Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in the bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side and improvised a delightful obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized with their blended and beautiful music.


    Check tomorrow's post for some explanations about this reading

  • The Life of Christ - Sabbath Lessons (5) - Friday, February 2nd

    Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. Mark 3:7-12

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We wrap up week three in our series on the Life of Christ from the Gospel of Mark. I strongly encourage you to go online and listen to Pastor Ben’s message again and/or go back over the first four Devotionals again. Then go to Matthew 11:25-30 and read the passage meditatively. Settle in your mind and heart what response the Lord is calling you to regarding “rest.” In the Matthew passage Jesus says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” A sermon and Devotionals are helpful, but they can only take you so far. Jesus says, “Learn from me.” Jesus is the one who can teach you what you fully need to know and lead you fully into his amazing “spiritual rest.”

    It all begins by responding to Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me.” Even the Scriptures are not enough in and of themselves. The “Written Word” always should lead us to encounter the “Living Word,” Jesus Christ. Over and over again our daily pattern should be – Coming to him – Learning from him – Receiving from him (“spiritual rest” for our souls). Jesus wants us to be followers of him that are thoroughly his followers. We become his followers thoroughly as we learn to “come” to him consistently and continually for all that he is and for all that he has for us.

    In today’s passage, great multitudes had come to Jesus from everywhere because they had heard of all that he was doing. They were coming to be healed of sicknesses and to be delivered of unclean spirits. Jesus cared about these needs and he met these needs over and over again. But, first and foremost, Jesus wanted people to come to him and become his thorough followers. There has been a recurring theme so far in the Gospel of Mark that we have not yet addressed. Repeatedly, Jesus has restricted both the unclean spirits and people who have been delivered, from making him known. Why does he do this? Perhaps, Jesus was just concerned that people coming to him with physicals needs would reach such a vast scale that it would literally “crowd” out his being able to call people to come thoroughly to him.

    So, how about us? What is it right now that “crowds” out Jesus’ call to us to come to him and follow him thoroughly?

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    This would be a great time to develop your own prayer response to the Lord. May we all keep growing in our ability to come to him – learn from him – receive from him (“spiritual rest” for our souls).

    Be sure to check out the special posts for this coming Saturday and Sunday. 

  • The Life of Christ - Sabbath Lessons (4) - Thursday, February 1st

    Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:11-16

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Keeping in mind that we are under the New Covenant is essential for our understanding the role of “Sabbath” today. As participants in the New Covenant we are engaged in life by the Spirit and not life by the law. There is no longer a temple with its sacrificial system of worship. Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross once for all. Through faith in Christ we have received forgiveness of sins and have become a fit habituation for God’s presence. We have become temples of the Holy Spirit through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Worship becomes a constant thing as we fellowship with God who lives within us transforming us from the inside out. The New Covenant leaves behind the outward observance of rules and regulations, a temple to go to for connecting with God through sacrificial offerings, and devotion to a special day of religious observance.

    Our need for resting our bodies and minds is obvious. So, we should carry forward this kind of rest which seventh day Sabbath observance provided for Old Covenant adherents. We are free to do this however we see fit with whatever blocks of time work for us. But that’s it regarding what the Old Covenant Sabbath leaves for us as New Covenant adherents. Yesterday, in the first half of Hebrews 4, we were introduced to the provision of “spiritual rest” which the New Covenant brings to all who are genuinely open to adhering to the New Covenant only and fully. This “spiritual rest” was seen in the words, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

    The Sabbath rest God has for his people today is truly a “spiritual rest” and it has two aspects. The first aspect was seen in the words, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” Yes, we are to rest from our own “works.” We looked at the following Scriptures for help in understanding this. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure.” Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

    The Christian life is an exchanged life. We let Christ do for us what we cannot do for ourselves as he lives in us and through us by means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Most of what we will learn about the exchanged life comes directly from Christ as we prayerfully let him teach us and lead us into the fullness of letting the life we live be his works as we rest from our own. This is the first aspect of the “Sabbath rest" God has for his people.” The second aspect of “spiritual rest” comes from these words from today’s passage, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The key words are “draw near with confidence.”

    Remember, you are God’s temple and he dwells within you. We have full and complete access to the intimacy of God’s presence within us. The key is “drawing near with confidence” so that we know and experience his abiding presence as continuously and consistently as possible. Drawing near and being aware of God’s presence is the essence of what it means to commune with God. When we are intimately connected to God in this way, all that he is becomes more readily available to us. In other words, being fully in tune with God’s presence in us releases him to live powerfully through us. Resting in the intimacy of his presence and resting from the futility self-living, unleashes the fullness of God’s life on our behalf.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I am beginning to get the meaning of the pronouncement, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Help me to enter fully by faith into your amazing provision of “spiritual rest.” Deliver me from unbelief. I draw near with confidence to your throne of grace to find you and your help in time of need, which is always. I need you to do for me what I cannot do for myself, which is everything. Thank you for the wonder of your presence and power in my life. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Sabbath Lessons (3) - Wednesday, January 31st

    Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also (refers to Israel and entering the promise land); but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Hebrews 4:1-10

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    The Sabbath as it was meant to be when God instituted it in Old Testament times was very different in the time of Christ. For those who observed the Sabbath it was meant to produce peace, rest, renewal, restoration, etc. However, the version of the Sabbath the Pharisees were contending for in their confrontations with Jesus produced anything but these things. Ironically, Sabbath observance had become something that demanded laborious effort in not doing any work as it was defined by the religious system of the day. Somehow the idea of the Sabbath being a day of rest got shortchanged.

    Today’s passage is all about rest. It speaks of the promise of God’s rest for Israel coming about when they would enter the promise land of Canaan after coming out of Egypt. Israel disobeyed and did not enter in and so they wandered around in the wilderness until Joshua led them in 40 years later. The rest God promised Israel was broader than that of Sabbath day rest. Our passage goes on to tell us that “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” This is different than “Sabbath day rest” and “promise land rest.” It is a “spiritual rest” that God intends Christ-followers to enter into.

    Hebrews 4 teaches us that there are two aspects to “spiritual rest.” The first aspect is in today’s passage and the second is in the second half of Hebrews 4 which we will look at tomorrow. Notice that after our passage says, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” it says, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” So, we are to rest from our own “works.” What does this mean? The “Sabbath rest” God has for his people today is a “spiritual rest” and it begins with resting from our own “works.” Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure.” Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

    So, the Christian life is an exchanged life. It is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” We will go further with this tomorrow. It is important to realize, however, that most of what you will learn about the exchanged life will come directly from Christ as you prayerfully let him teach you and lead you into the fullness of letting the life you live be his works as your rest from your own. This the first part of the “Sabbath rest God has for his people.”

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I want to follow you fully. Please teach me how to let the life I live be you and not me. I have so much to learn, but I am willing. I bow before you in surrender and dependence. I look forward to all that you have in store for me. I look forward to all the peace, rest, renewal, and restoration you want to produce in my life. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Sabbath Lessons (2) - Tuesday, January 30th

    He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. Mark 3:1-6

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    In today’s passage the Gospel of Mark gives us round two in the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath. A man with a withered hand is present and is about to become the focal point of the synagogue. To the Pharisees the man with the withered hand is nothing more than a pawn they are seeking to use to entrap Jesus. It is likely the Pharisees arranged for the man with the withered hand to be present in order to create for themselves this opportunity to accuse Jesus of healing on the Sabbath. For them healing on the Sabbath would be work and working on the Sabbath would be a violation of Jewish religious law.

    In round one the Pharisees took the offensive and accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath by doing the work of harvesting grain on the Sabbath. In round two Jesus takes the offensive. If the Pharisees had not manipulated the situation for their evil purposes and the man with the withered hand had showed up on his own, Jesus would simply have healed the man out of compassion and concern. But because of the situation, Jesus strikes first and both thwarts the Pharisees and uses the man’s need for healing as a teaching moment for all.

    Jesus has the man with the withered hand come forward. Surely, the expectation of the man, the Pharisees, and everyone else in the synagogue is the immediate healing of the man. Instead, Jesus asks them all a question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” The blow is struck and the Pharisees are thwarted. Through his question, Jesus teaches everyone that whether or not a person in need should be healed on the Sabbath is not a matter of it being work or it not being work. Rather, it is a matter of the necessity of doing good on the Sabbath. To put the issue of work above the necessity of doing good is to make doing harm lawful on the Sabbath.

    No wonder the Pharisees are silenced. Jesus has accused them and they have been masterfully put in their place. Grieved with their hardness of heart, Jesus looks at them angrily and then heals the man. Round two is over and the Pharisees go out to plot Jesus’ demise.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, to see you at work skillfully removing the obstacles to your healing the man in the story reminds that it is truly a wonderful thing to belong to and have the confidence that I am always the beneficiary of your compassion and concern. In everything that happens to me you are at work bringing good to me and not harm. Thank you for the harm you took upon yourself that I might know your goodness day by day and forever. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Sabbath Lessons (1) - Monday, January 29th

    And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We are in the fourth week of our Series from the gospel of Mark on “The Life of Christ“ and will be looking at Mark 2:23 – 3:12 throughout the week. Both today’s passage and tomorrow’s passage deal with the “Sabbath” and are further instances where the old and the new collide as Jesus comes face to face with the opposition of religious leaders. This past Friday we said that the focus of the old covenant is the "law" which included ceremonial laws (sacrificial worship), civil laws, and moral laws. While some of the "law" is for all time (you shall not commit adultery), many parts of it were temporary (the cross made them obsolete). So, in regard to the Sabbath, is it for all time or is it obsolete? Answering this question gets a bit tricky. We will be looking at this more fully on Wednesday and Thursday when we will examine chapter 4 of the book of Hebrews. For now, let’s just say that “Sabbath” as a principle carries forward but not as a religious observance.

    Under Old Testament Law, Saturday, the seventh day of the week was the Sabbath. It was a day of rest (do no work) and a day of worship (bringing your sacrificial offering to the Temple). The Pharisees who confronted Jesus believed that he and his disciples had violated the Sabbath by picking grain on the Sabbath. They considered this to be doing work on the Sabbath and as a result they viewed Jesus and his disciples as having broken the law. By this point in history the Jewish religious leaders had made defining what was to be considered working on the Sabbath both an art and a science. They had developed an intricate and elaborate set of rules and regulations for what did and did not constitute working on the Sabbath. Jesus cuts through all this religious silliness with two statements in today’s passage.

    The first statement is this: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, it is the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law that counts. The second statement is this: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus again is dealing with their opposition with the simple reality, "I am here." The one who will inaugurate the new covenant has come and is in charge. My disciples and I are going about in the reality of all that is to come because I am here. The simplicity of devotion to Christ is a beautiful thing. We are the redeemed. Christ lives in us by his Spirit. We walk by the Spirit and not by a legalistic devotion to rules and regulations.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, thank you for helping me increasingly enter into life by the Spirit over life by law. How beautiful it is to know you intimately, enjoy you wonderfully, be transformed by you triumphantly, walk with you powerfully, and live for you fully! I know it is all because you live in me though the amazing gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen!

    Be sure to check out the special posts from this past Saturday and Sunday.

  • Explanations for "The Missing Watch" Reading - Sunday, January 28th

    Explanations for “The Missing Watch” Reading

    My name is Ken Hart. Our church started providing Daily Devotionals at the end of 2014. It has my been my privilege to put them together over this time period and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with this ministry as we go forward. The Devotionals run Monday through Friday. Back around Thanksgiving I started posting stories on holidays and weekends. Stories are a big part of my work world. I have been a hospice Chaplain for over 8 years and the people I care for relate very well to stories. Going forward for a while, I thought I would post some of these stories on Saturdays and share on Sundays how I apply them to those I care for. The kind of needs I address day after day are universal and I am confident that the things I share on weekends will be helpful to everyone. This sharing coupled with the weekday Devotionals will give us something to relate to every day of each week.

    Yesterday’s post is the third story I use in my work that I wanted to tell you about. This story might have left you hanging a bit more than the first two regarding how I use it. Being quiet, still, in tune, and aware are the take-aways from the story we need. These kind of things are important contributors to spiritual development but life is filled with so much that militates against them. God has so much he wants us to gain from him but we are so busy racing about and racing within that we miss him. God says in his Word, “Be still and know that I am God.” We must shut the door on the world and seek to be quiet before God. And then the more we succeed at being still the more we become in tune and aware. In this way we are able to know and experience God’s presence and he is able to bring to us his comfort, encouragement, strength, guidance, etc.

    Once again we see the workings of faith in God. As a hospice Chaplain I consistently talk about faith in two ways. First, faith is the assurance that God loves us and is with us in Spirit every moment of every day he gives to us and is always helping us get through life in the best way possible. In whatever we face, God majors on producing in us a great sense of well-being by providing the peace and comfort of his presence. Second, faith is the assurance that in addition to his being with us in Spirit while we are here, we will be with him forever in Heaven (where nothing will distract) someday when he is ready for us and says, “come on home.” These assurances are a great source of peace and comfort for us.

    The stories I share with the people I visit, allow me to share again and again this two-fold understanding of faith from different angles. Over the weeks ahead I will share them with you and it is my hope that the lessons of faith gained from them will bless your life in special ways.

  • A Reading for Saturday, January, 27th - "The Missing Watch"

    The Missing Watch

     A farmer who owned a small farm was working in his barn putting up hay for the winter. After several long hours of hard work he went out in the barnyard for a break. It was then that he realized his pocket watch was missing. As pocket watches go it was not very valuable but it had sentimental value because it had been handed down to him by his father. Back into the barn he went to look through the hay but he couldn’t come up with his pocket watch. 

    It was mentioned that the farm was a small one and as such the barn and barnyard weren’t very far from the property line. It just happened that on the other side of the property line was a grade school and the kids were at recess. There was a group of them playing near the property line, all whom were acquainted with the farmer. The farmer decided to ask them to come over and help him look. Into the barn they went and after searching the hay and playing in it some, they came out of the barn unsuccessful. One of the boys who had just helped in the search asked the farmer, “Can I go back into the barn and look by myself? The farmer thought, “How can he accomplish what all of us together couldn’t accomplish. Oh well, why not, what can it hurt?”

    So, into the barn went the boy and five minutes later out he came with pocket watch in hand. The farmer was delighted but quite surprised. The farmer said to him, “How in the world did you find it by yourself when all of us together couldn’t find it? The little boy said, “Well, when I went inside the barn and shut the door, I realized that it was very quiet. So, I just sat down, kept very still, and listened. After a while I got used to the quiet and began to hear a ticking sound. I just kept slowly moving closer, and closer to the ticking sound and then there it was in the hay.

    Check tomorrow's post for some explanations about this reading

  • The Life of Christ - The New Way of the Holy Spirit and Grace

    John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Today’s Devotional is very long, but contains some all-important understandings that are vital to our spiritual welfare. Jesus came to replace the old covenant with the new covenant. It is important to understand that they are not two different means of salvation. Salvation has always been a provision of the grace of God that is bestowed on the basis of personal faith in God. In the Old Testament, people were forgiven on the basis of faith in God for his promised provision of Grace through the cross of Christ. In the New Testament people are forgiven on the basis of faith in God for his accomplished provision of grace through the cross of Christ. The old and the new covenants are two different ways (economies) that God's people (the redeemed) fulfill the intentions God has for them. However, by the time Christ arrived on the scene God's simple plan of salvation by grace had been twisted into a complicated system of religious works."

    The focus of the old covenant is the "law" which included ceremonial laws (sacrificial worship), civil laws, and moral laws. While some of the "law" is for all time (you shall not commit adultery), many parts of it were temporary (the cross made them obsolete). The complicated system of religious works that was in place when Jesus was on earth was rooted in the law and had become the accepted means for achieving salvation. Today’s passage shows us some of what happened when Jesus and this religious system collided and why it happened. The focus of the new covenant is the "Spirit" of God and this is what lies at the heart of the emphasis Jesus puts on the "new" in contrast to "old." The fasting and praying mentioned in our passage had become requirements that must be observed along with everything else in the religious system of the day if one was to achieve salvation.

    Jesus' answer to the objection raised concerning he and his disciples not observing these requirements is so simple: "I am here" is the essence of Jesus' answer to them. The one who will inaugurate the new covenant has come. The new covenant will bring forgiveness and the giving of the Holy Spirit. My disciples are celebrating me and all that is to come because I am here. The simplicity of devotion to Christ and his indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit is a beautiful thing. We are the redeemed. Christ lives in us by his Spirit. We know him intimately, we enjoy him wonderfully, we are transformed by him triumphantly, we walk with him powerfully, and we live for him fully.

    As the Sovereign Lord of the universe who is absolutely in charge, God knows what needs to be done and he has the authority and power to do it. God intends to succeed at creating a people for himself who live fully for him and who in the end fulfill what he has in mind for them. God's plan is to give people hearts that are willing, tender, responsive, focused, and filled with his Spirit with the result being they are obedient to his desires and intentions for them. God knows that the heart is the key. With our hearts under the control of God's Spirit, we are delivered and kept from the heart's natural propensity for sin and evil.

    However, before God can show up in our hearts through his Spirit, he must show up on earth through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to institute God's plan of working from the inside out in the lives of willing people. This is what the new covenant is all about and this new way of God's Spirit is made possible through the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. It is after the resurrection that the fullness of the Gospel is in place so that the forgiveness of sins and the gift of God's indwelling Holy Spirit come to all who will believe. In our passage Jesus is fully absorbed in the reality of the new thing he is here to accomplish. Jesus and the "new" come face to face with the religious establishment and the "old." The garment illustration powerfully drives home the fact that the "old" and "new" are absolutely incompatible and must never be made to co-exist.

    We said earlier that God intends to succeed at creating a people for himself who live fully for him and who in the end fulfill what he has in mind for them. That is precisely our calling as ones who have placed our faith in Christ for eternal salvation. We have received the forgiveness of sins and we are indwelled by the living God who has placed his Spirit in our hearts. We are smack dab in the center of the "new" thing Christ came to provide for all who are willing. And yet we too, try to blend the "old" and the "new" in our pursuit of living the Christian life. Galatians 3:3 says, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Galatians 5:25 says, If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." When Jesus first shared the garment illustration it was just what was needed for that moment in that situation. There is little doubt that there is a Pharisee inside every one of us and he rears his ugly head from time to time. Perhaps the garment illustration is just what we need right now at this exact moment.

    The "new way" that Jesus came to establish is all about the good news of grace. Feasting instead of fasting are as opposite from each other as grace and merit. The new way includes Jesus, feasting, grace, gospel and faith. The old way includes religious leaders, fasting, merit, a religious system, and works. The "new way" in Christ is all about the free and undeserved grace of God and not about a system of good works. Not only is it true that the "new way" and "old way" do not go together but the "old way" must be forsaken altogether. Jesus warned his followers repeatedly about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Their religious practice is all about outward appearance. As long as they "look" righteous they don't have to worry about "being" righteous. Jesus says that someday they will be exposed for what they are, frauds. Everything they covered up from public view and kept hidden and secret will be revealed and it won't be pretty.

    The Pharisees ended up so very far removed from what God intended. The old covenant gave in great detail all that God desired (the law) for his people Israel. But the fault of the old covenant (not the laws themselves) was that it could not empower people to carry out the intentions of God it contained. The "old way" of the Pharisees and the old covenant are not the same thing. The "old way" of the Pharisees is the product of the faulty old covenant that could not empower people to carry out the intentions of God it contained. The "old way" is a man-made religious system that makes it possible for its adherents to appear to be righteous and appear to be carrying out God's intentions when in reality they are anything but what they appear to be. The new covenant that Jesus came to put in place leaves no room for the old covenant or the "old ways" of the Pharisees. What a blessed gift it is to be recipients of the "new way" that includes Jesus, feasting, grace, gospel and faith. This "new way" is all we will ever need.

    Picture yourself walking down the street with your sweetheart. You've got 50 bucks in your pocket and you’re looking for a reasonable priced place to eat. You come to an exclusive restaurant where you know you would have to spend $200 or more to eat. As you are about to move on, the maître d comes out and invites you to come in and enjoy dinner for two, compliments of the restaurant. The normal, usual, expected way to have such a meal would be to pay for it. You might just move on because the whole thing sounds suspect. Having a free high class restaurant experience bestowed on you is unexpected and hard to wrap your head around. Instead of moving on you decide to proceed cautiously knowing you've got your 50 bucks to fall back on.

    We are used to paying our way and are very suspicious of free gifts. This is the same struggle many have with God. Caught up in the syndrome of trying to pay our own way by following a religious system, we are suspicious when we hear about the gospel of grace. And even after we do go forward in good faith with God and the gospel of grace we have our 50 bucks to fall back on. Perhaps it is because our propensity to pay our own way runs so deep that Jesus uses the additional illustration of the wineskins. Again, he drives home the point that the old and the new are incompatible. Whether we are outside the restaurant contemplating the offer of a free high dining experience or we are already in the middle of it, there is no place for our 50 bucks. Our place at the table is secure. How silly of us to seek security in the paltry contents of our own wallets. We are at the table because the one who loves us invited us to be there, he paid the bill entirely, and nothing will ever remove us from the fabulous "table" of his presence.

    Let the assurances God's Spirit is waiting to bring to you sweep over your soul and be absolutely assured that the gospel of grace really is the gospel of grace alone with no strings attached. We must reject the voices of those who want to take away our assurance and security in Christ. Christ is our reality, not their religious system of rules and regulations. Don't let their twisted ways mess with the full reality of Christ and the gospel of grace.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, help me comprehend and embrace fully all that I have and all that I am through your indwelling presence. Help me to recognize and forsake anything of religiosity that remains in my life. Thank you for making it possible for me to be at your table. Thank you for inviting me to it and seating me there. And thank you for the assurance that I am at the table of your presence forever. Guard my heart and mind from my own tendency to want to "mix" in "pay my own way" stuff with the gospel of grace. Thank you for your love and grace that rescued me from man-made religion and immersed me in the actual experience of your love and grace. Please, guard me from the voices of others that beckon me back to finding security through rules and regulations. My trust is in you and you alone, Lord. Your gracious and loving presence are all I need. I love you, I celebrate you, I embrace you, and I thank for your indwelling Spirit. Amen!

    Be sure to check out the special posts for this coming Saturday and Sunday. 

  • The Life of Christ - Calls the "Unaccomplished" to Accomplish His Will - Thursday, January, 25th

    And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    The religious establishment did not expect that Jesus would call Levi, a tax collector, to be his follower nor that he would hang out with such a collection of people at a party. It seems that societal and religious culture esteem "accomplishment" within the accepted order of things. God's plan is to call and use those who are "not accomplished" within the accepted order of things here on earth to accomplish his truly divine purposes. The overarching tendency of those who are accomplished within the accepted order of things here on earth (either societal or religious) is to be prideful and boastful. When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” he is saying, "give up your life for my sake." It seems the "accomplished" are less likely to do this because they have much to give up or lose. The "unaccomplished" are much more likely to respond to Christ's call because they have little to lose and therefore little to give up. God's plan for true "accomplishment" is hinged entirely on him. He wants the life we live to be his doing and this is why we need Christ. Following him makes all the difference, but it doesn't work very well when we get in the way with our pride, accomplishments, and boasting.

    There is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. It begins with the fact that they think they are righteous. It moves to them not knowing they are sinners who need to repent. Next, we see that there are some people they absolutely hate and for whom they have absolutely no love. And finally, they think that if Jesus is really a spiritual leader, he should join them in their hatred of the so-called "scum" and that he should have absolutely no association whatsoever with them. It is interesting that Jesus says he did not come to call those who think they are righteous. I think Jesus says this because he cannot call those who think they are righteous. Jesus is talking about the self-righteous and the self-righteous don't think they need a savior and if you don't think you need a Savior, you don't need Jesus and you certainly won’t follow him..

    I don't think there are any of us that entirely escape the syndrome of the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. Apply the love test: is there anyone I think should be excluded from ever knowing Christ's love and presence. If there is anyone we have put into this category, then we are guilty and we either don't understand why we need a Savior or we have forgotten why we needed Christ in the first place. We are all just as sinful in God's eyes. The difference is that some people manifest it (in our eyes) more readily than others. We may not be as blatant about things as the Pharisees and teachers of religious law in our story but we are like them.

    Another way to look at this is like this: somewhere buried in my soul is the notion that I deserved (to some degree however small) to be saved while some others (scum) don't. Somehow, we escaped the syndrome of the Pharisees and teachers of religious law enough to receive the forgiveness of sins through Christ but not enough to rid us of self-righteousness and to make us lovers of people (all people) like Christ. To rid ourselves of this inconsistency we need to meditate long and hard on what it means to need a Savior at the beginning and along the way. We need to live life as ones who always need a Savior (my salvation was totally undeserved and unearned and it is Christ and Christ alone who can produce righteousness in me) because slipping into a self-righteous Christian lifestyle somewhere along the way happens readily.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I want to be your follower in the fullest sense. Help me to see more clearly what you value and esteem. Deliver me from valuing the things that societal and religious culture value and esteem. Help me to grasp how strong and deep your abhorrence is for the "self-righteous religious path of the Pharisees" to which I am so prone. I confess that far too often I find joy from having feeling alright about myself because I think I have accomplished so-called righteous living. Deliver me from self-righteousness, show me how to absolutely depend on your indwelling presence, and fill me up with your love and compassion to such an extent that it freely flows from me to others (all others). Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Sole Provider of Physical and Spiritual Healing - Wednesday, January 24th

    When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” Mark 2:1-12

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    The crowds gathered around Jesus were there for the physical healing they were hoping he would provide for them. This is certainly the reason why the men carried the paralyzed man to Jesus. We understand that Jesus was not just a healer of physical infirmity but that he was a healer of spiritual infirmity as well. Before the actual birth of Jesus, the angel told Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins. As Jesus began his public ministry, John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

    Spiritual infirmity is always a greater need than physical infirmity. The physical paralysis of the man rendered him helpless and he could do nothing about it (hence, his being carried by friends). Our spiritual paralysis (sinfulness) renders us helpless and we can do nothing about it (hence, we need a Savior from sin). How easily we minimize the extent of our need and our helplessness to do anything about it. How easily we minimize the necessity of a Savior and the extent of what Christ did to take care of our sin.

    Our passage tells us that Jesus saw their (the men's) faith and then told the young man that his sins were forgiven. He could rightly have said, "Young man and you guys up there on the roof, your sins are forgiven." It was faith that made the difference. It is by faith (not works) that we have been made right in the sight of God and it is all because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Christ was sent to die for us and he did so while we were still (before works could have any possibility of effect) sinners. It is interesting that when Jesus tells the young man that his sins are forgiven it is still in view of the promised provision of the cross and not the accomplished provision of the cross. The healing of the man and the Saving of the man are integrally connected. This is what the Pharisees with their objections don't get and it is because they don't recognize Jesus as God in the flesh.

    Our story began with crowds of people coming to be healed which included the men and their paralyzed friend. The religious leaders are in the crowd to find any fault with Jesus that can be found. Jesus does the unexpected by telling the young man that his sins are forgiven. The Pharisees say this is blasphemy. Jesus proves he has authority to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. Again, healing and forgiveness are integrally connected. Jesus takes care of the greatest need of all - the spiritual infirmity of sinfulness. Through the forgiveness of sins Jesus heals our souls and transforms our lives from the inside out.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I acknowledge that I tend to minimize the extent of my spiritual infirmity and the extent of my true need for you. Thank you for coming to be the Savior of the world and the Savior of my soul. I know I need a Savior and that you are it. Thank you for giving me faith to believe in you as my Savior from sin. I am gripped by wonder, awe, and praise for who you are and what you do. You heal the lame, you forgive sinners, and you meet the deepest needs of our souls. Thank you, Lord, for being in the business of restoring people in body, soul, and spirit. Thank you for your provision of salvation and the powerful touch of your presence in my life today. Amen!

  • The Life of Christ - Cleansing Infirmities with a Willing, Compassionate Touch - Tuesday, January 23rd

    And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere. Mark 1:40-45

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    Last week we considered how the words, “He went about doing good” were a fitting description of Jesus going about fulfilling his earthly ministry. Today’s Scripture gives another snapshot that captures in beautiful detail the fullness of him doing just that. We have the simple account of a needy human being coming to Jesus for help and Jesus doing good on his behalf. The goal of today’s Devotional is for us to come before Jesus in such a way that we actually experience the good he wants to do on our behalf right now. What do you say? Are you ready to receive help from Jesus for a special need in your life? Just mirror for yourself what you see in today’s passage. Prayerfully come before Jesus. Beseech him – tell him what you want him to do for you. Fall on your knees before him. Say to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Now, believe with every fiber of your being that Jesus is moved with compassion for you and your need. See Jesus in your mind's eye stretching out his hand and feel his glorious touch upon you. Hear him say, “I am willing; be cleansed.” I hope you were able to come before Jesus in this way and I hope that the outcome was that your infirmity (problem) left you and you were cleansed. However, remember that our faith is in the Lord himself and not the outcome we want. Our heartbeat is always, “not my will be done, but yours, oh, Lord.” Surely, the good Jesus wanted to do on your behalf in your encounter with him was done.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Your encounter with Jesus through the spiritual exercise of this Devotional is your prayer response for today.

  • The Life of Christ - The Needed Sanctuary of Private, Personal Prayer - Monday, January 22nd

    In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. Mark 1:35-39

    Today's thoughts from today's verses:

    We are in the third week of our Series from the gospel of Mark on “The Life of Christ“ and will be looking at Mark 1:35 – 2:22 throughout the week. From today’s passage we are going to consider the implications for us of Christ’s reliance on regular communion with his Heavenly Father in private, personal prayer. The following excerpt from the writings of W. Philip Keller will help us do this:

    God calls us to be still before Him. In this quiet expectancy, with humility of spirit and honesty of soul, we will discover He is very near to us. In order for us to truly seek out silence (stillness) we have to first discover a bit of insufficiency. As long as I am strong/busy/able/in control, I don't really need stillness....so God often brings me to insufficiency to get me to stillness where he can speak to me. Far better to build a daily habit of stillness that grows out of the conviction that I need to be alone with God so He can speak to me. You will be surprised. It is in this sense of serene stillness of his profound presence that we sense our souls become serene. There we find rest, repose, and re-creation. 

    Only in intimate and first-hand interaction with His Spirit am I remade in his likeness. Christ’s own superb character impacts mine. I become like the one whom I spend special time—daily. Most of us are so preoccupied pouring out our own petitions we will not pause to listen to what He tells us. Be still. Be calm. Be receptive. Wait confidently for Him to instruct and guide in the way He wishes you to live. This is the way to pray. Christ, just as with His own disciples in His earthly days, calls us to come to the awareness we need to be still. We need to get alone with Him. We need to sense the still, refreshing dews of His presence, His peace, His power to restore our souls and spirits. Give Him time to do this! 

    It is essential for us to understand clearly that our Father is not only delighted to have us draw near to him in quiet communion, but He in turn loves to draw near to us. He loves to make Himself known in reality to His child. He revels in the company of the one who is humble in heart (will, soul) and contrite in spirit. Entering into the inner attitude of utter stillness has been discovered by the truly great and noble saints of God, all through the ages and to them it became a source of spiritual strength and inspiration as they communed quietly with the living God. Such interaction with God is not a form of subtle “mysticism,” “pietism,” or even “quietism.” Neither is it spurious or sentimental self-delusion or self –hypnosis or a sinister sort of transcendental meditation. Let it be said without apology or embarrassment: “To know Christ as my closest friend, to know God as my caring Father, to know His gracious Spirit as my constant Counselor, is to know eternal life!” (John 17:3) 

    Turn your weary footsteps toward our Loving Savior who waits for you to come to Him. He longs for you simply to settle down quietly in His presence and be still before Him. Find your rest, your renewal, your refreshment in His company. Let the still dews of His own Spirit settle down softly upon your soul. Oh, the wonder of just coming to Christ in open, honest, and deep longing to be refreshed with His life! He invites us to come day after day to drink and drink of Him. There is no other way to pray and to ask to be filled and filled and filled, again and again and again.

    We really can experience this kind of praying. It is the kind of praying Jesus needed, took time for, and modeled for us. The word "dine" in Revelation 3:20 conveys the picture of two people sitting face to face, just being with each other, and enjoying each other's company over a meal. This aspect of communing with God in prayer is one that must be cultivated and has much to do with being "still" in God's presence. We don't always have to be learning something, be convicted of something, be guided in something. Let's learn to relax with the Lord and enjoy each other. God delights to be God to us. We must let Him, by truly partaking of Him, being filled by Him, being replenished and refreshed by him as we learn to be still before Him and let Him care for our deepest needs. The imagery of “drinking” in John 7:37-38 and Jeremiah 2:13 conveys the idea of spiritually partaking of living water from the fountain of living waters and forsaking all substitutes. 

    As we learn to be "still" before the Lord we will find it necessary for us first to forget about ourselves and our needs, to be empty, to be totally focused on Him. We worship Him, exalt Him, praise Him, delight in Him. Our being in God's presence in this way is what it means to “minister to the Lord” as seen in Acts 13:2. He longs for us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. When we bow before Him in emptiness with our central desire to be before Him for whatever He desires, the Lord is ministered to by us. We, His creatures before our Creator, existing for His pleasure - that's what it takes. Now, empty of ourselves, God is able to minister to us by filling us up with Himself. He can't fill that which is filled with something else. It is an exciting thing to get to know God in this way. He longs for you simply to settle down quietly in His presence and be still before Him. Find your rest, your renewal, your refreshment in His company. Let the still dews of His own Spirit settle down softly upon your soul.

    Today's prayer response from today's thoughts:

    Lord, I come to you the fountain of living waters. I seek to be empty of me and forgetful of self so I can truly drink deeply of you. I worship you, exalt you, praise you, delight in you. I settle down quietly in your presence and I am still be for you. I minister to you, Lord and I know you are ministering to me by filling me, replenishing me, renewing me, strengthening me, and refreshing me. I love you, enjoy you, and rest in you. Amen!

    Be sure to check out the special posts from this past Saturday and Sunday.

  • Explanations for "The True Meaning of Peace" Reading - Sunday, January 21st

    Explanations for “The True Picture of Peace” Reading

    My name is Ken Hart. Our church started providing Daily Devotionals at the end of 2014. It has my been my privilege to put them together over this time period and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with this ministry as we go forward. The Devotionals run Monday through Friday. Back around Thanksgiving I started posting stories on holidays and weekends. Stories are a big part of my work world. I have been a hospice Chaplain for over 8 years and the people I care for relate very well to stories. Going forward for a while, I thought I would post some of these stories on Saturdays and share on Sundays how I apply them to those I care for. The kind of needs I address day after day are universal and I am confident that the things I share on weekends will be helpful to everyone. This sharing coupled with the weekday Devotionals will give us something to relate to every day of each week.

    Yesterday’s post is the second story I use in my work that I wanted to tell you about. The two pictures in the story stand in stark contrast to each other. There is a part of us that would love to live in the paradise of the first picture and never have to contend with the turmoil of the second. But that isn’t life, is it? Life is always a mix of the nice and not so nice. The not so nice, tough things of life have a way of rattling us so that we find ourselves anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed. We are drawn to the idea of being peaceful and calm in the middle of life’s storms, but it is much easier said than done. This is where faith in God comes in. As a hospice Chaplain I consistently talk about faith in two ways. First, faith is the assurance that God loves us and is with us in Spirit every moment of every day he gives to us and is always helping us get through the storms of life in the best way possible. In whatever we face, God majors on producing in us a great sense of well-being by providing the peace and comfort of his presence. Second, faith is the assurance that in addition to his being with us in Spirit while we are here, we will be with him forever in Heaven (where there are no storms) someday when he is ready for us and says, “come on home.” These assurances are a great source of peace and comfort for us.

    The stories I share with the people I visit, allow me to share again and again this two-fold understanding of faith from different angles. Over the weeks ahead I will share them with you and it is my hope that the lessons of faith gained from them will bless your life in special ways.

  • A Reading for Saturday, January, 20th - "The Perfect Picture of Peace"

    The True Picture of Peace

    There was a king in a foreign land who ruled well over his realm. All the people loved him. For some reason that we don’t know about the king decided to hold a contest. He made it known throughout the land that all who wanted to should submit their own personal work of art that showed what peace really looked like. Now if one was artistic it would really help with this contest.

    So many, many, people from all over the land submitted their works of art. Finally, the king narrowed it down to two paintings that he really liked. He decided to put them on display for everyone to see before he made his final decision . Now if you were there and saw the first painting, you would have thought it was the perfect picture of peace. There was a beautiful lake that was perfectly calm, and still. It looked like a mirror. All around the lake there were mountains, lush with green trees, beautiful meadows and dazzling wild flowers. The sky was a beautiful blue, filled with billowy white clouds, and everything was reflected in the lake. You would have felt quite peaceful and calm just looking at the picture.

    Again, if you were there and saw the second picture, you would have said, “Why is it even here? It is not peaceful at all.” It had a mountain, but it was rugged and jagged and bare. Down the side of the mountain raged a rushing and roaring waterfall. Up above the artist had painted in an angry sky with dark clouds, lightning flashes, and torrents of rain. Truly it was anything but a peaceful scene. However, if you looked closely, you would see that the artist had painted in a cave behind the waterfall with one visible wall. And in that wall there was a crack, and from that crack there was a branch growing. On the end of that branch there was a nest. In that nest sat a tiny mother bird caring for her young. You could clearly see that she was totally peaceful and calm, even with the raging waterfall and violent storm.

    Which picture do you think the king picked? Well it turns out that he picked the second picture. And he explained to everyone why. “I picked this picture because peace is not about having everything just right with no noise, no interruptions, no storms, no troubles, no trials, no sorrows or pains. Peace is all about being in the middle of such things and being calm and at rest on the inside.

    Check tomorrow's post for some explanations about this reading

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