Devotionals for week of 10-2-16
This Devotional Set is from the past (week of 5-10-15) but fits in quite well with Pastor Ben’s current series on “The Leaf.” It will serve as a substitute for the week of 10-2-16. It was not posted online throughout that week. It has now been posted in its entirety on 10-9-16.
Devotionals for the week of 5-10-15
Our devotional section is an important part of the follow up material that fits in with Pastor Ben's weekly messages and helps us go deeper with it. It is our desire, our hope, and our prayer for this devotional section to become a great Spiritual Life tool that our church family can use throughout the year. Each day's devotional will typically consist of several Scriptures connected with the message, a commentary, and a prayer response.
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
You are living a brand new kind of life that is continually learning more and more of what is right, and trying constantly to be more and more like Christ who created this new life within you. In this new life one’s nationality or race or education or social position is unimportant; such things mean nothing. Whether a person has Christ is what matters, and he is equally available to all. Colossians 3:10-11 (TLB)
As you live this new life, we pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with courage. You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light. For we must never forget that he rescued us from the power of darkness, and re-established us in the kingdom of his beloved Son, that is, in the kingdom of light. For it is by his Son alone that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven. Colossians 1:11-14 (Phillips)
The Word of God emphasizes powerfully and clearly that a Christian is a new person with a new life. On the one hand this can be a very attractive prospect for a person when they are in the exploring stage of the journey of faith. Some of what is said to be "bad" has been bad in our lives and we want these bad things "out" of our lives. Some of what is said to be "good" we know has been missing and we have a desire for it to be "in" our lives. On the other hand some of what is said to be "bad" we have a hard time viewing as bad and some of what is said to be "good" we have a hard time viewing as "good."
But in order to move beyond this exploring stage of the journey of faith we need to recognize that there isn't a menu from which we get to make selections for what will be in and what won't be in our lives. We are called to be an entirely new person with an entirely new life as Christians. So, when we embrace Christ as our Savior, it is important that we do so with full recognition that he will now be in charge of producing the "new person" and "new life" he has in store for us. The Scriptures above give us some helpful insights into what the Lord has in store for us. Throughout the week we will be exploring more fully what it means to be a new person with a new life. Three key words will be: Surrender (who's in charge), identity, and vocation.
Lord, thank you for your Word! What wonderful phrases from the passages above: "a new life has begun," "a brand new kind of life," "more like Christ," "new life within," "re-established us in the kingdom of his beloved Son," etc. Lord, kindle a burning fire in my soul for wanting, embracing, and pursuing all that you have in store for me in regard to being a "new person" with a "new life."
I waited patiently for God to help me; then he listened and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out from the bog and the mire, and set my feet on a hard, firm path, and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, of praises to our God. Now many will hear of the glorious things he did for me, and stand in awe before the Lord, and put their trust in him. Many blessings are given to those who trust the Lord and have no confidence in those who are proud or who trust in idols. Psalm 40:1-4
But .... you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:8-14
Being a new person with a new life because of Jesus Christ is what we are exploring this week. The image of a picture frame is being utilized to help us get a better handle on our transition from the old to the new. We mentioned three words yesterday: surrender, identity, and vocation. Surrender has to do with our commitment to Christ who is in charge of producing the "new person" and "new life" he has in store for us. Identity is all that we are in Christ as he makes us into a new person with a new life. Vocation is our calling (central purpose for why we are here) to the life-long pursuit of letting the new person we are becoming and the new life that is unfolding have an impact on the people and world around us.
Take some time and go through the passages above and find things that have to do with surrender (commitment and trust), identity (releasing the old and embracing the new), and vocation (calling and purpose). Here is an example of each: Surrender - "Many blessings are given to those who trust the Lord." Identity - "Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy." Vocation - "Now many will hear of the glorious things he did for me, and stand in awe before the Lord, and put their trust in him." If you have the time make a list of things you find for each of three words. It would be great to rewrite the things you find in your own words. But at least, take one item you find for each of the three words and meditate on it for awhile. Talk to God in prayer about each one and ask him to use the things you have discovered and learned in your heart and life today.
Lord, thank you for the work of grace you are doing in my life. I am grateful for your patience and gentleness with me. Fill my heart with hope and confidence that you are at work in my life and will never let go of me or give up on me. Cleanse me, renew me, fill me, and use me. May you be honored and glorified in my life today.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Romans 12:1-3
Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me .... Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you .... My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart. Psalm 51:10, 12, 17
The Lord said: Heaven is my throne; the earth is my footstool. What kind of house could you build for me? In what place will I rest? I have made everything; that’s how it all came to be. I, the Lord, have spoken. The people I treasure most are the humble—they depend only on me and tremble when I speak. Isaiah 66:1-2
Since we have a Kingdom nothing can destroy, let us please God by serving him with thankful hearts and with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16
The verses above are all about surrender. Surrender is one of the three words we are focusing on this week to help us gain a full understanding of what it means to be a new person with a new life. The other two are identity (Thursday) and vocation (Friday). Yesterday we equated surrender with commitment. When we commit ourselves to God we are surrendering to him. But no one can be perfectly surrendered to God. It is a life-long commitment and pursuit. So in reality the surrendered person is not one who is perfectly surrendered but one who has made the commitment to always pursue being surrendered to God as fully as possible. This distinction is important for two reasons. First, if we view surrender as something absolute, total, and perfect, we will give up on it as unattainable. Second, when we view surrender as a pursuit, then the initial commitment we made to pursue surrender becomes a milestone in our lives to which we can look back in those times when our surrender is lacking and this helps us to go forward restored and renewed in our pursuit of surrender.
It is important that we have a solid grasp on what it means to make a commitment to the lifetime pursuit of surrender to God. When we make this commitment we are saying to God: I want you to be in charge of my life. I want to be the new person with the new life that you have in mind for me. I want your will and not my own. I am willing to be anything you want me to be, go anywhere you want me to go, and do anything you want me to do. I am willing to give up anything you want me to give up and to steer clear of anything that does not fit in with your will for my life. Perhaps the real question for us is: can we trust God with our lives. If we can trust God, then it would seem that surrendering our lives to him makes all the sense in the world. Perhaps you have never made the commitment to pursue a lifetime of surrender to God or perhaps you find yourself at a spot where the commitment you have made is severely lacking. Either way, now is a great moment to come before the Lord in full commitment to a lifetime of surrendering to him.
Lord, Here I am, take my life and all that I am and make everything new and right. Help me not to be afraid of anything that might happen as a result of surrendering to you. Help me to let go of everything. Help me to take hold of you completely. I release myself into your arms of love for the blessed life in you that I need and long for.
But God is rich in mercy, and he loved us very much. We were spiritually dead because of all we had done against him. But he gave us new life together with Christ. (You have been saved by God’s grace.) Yes, it is because we are a part of Christ Jesus that God raised us from death and seated us together with him in the heavenly places. God did this so that his kindness to us who belong to Christ Jesus would clearly show for all time to come the amazing richness of his grace. Ephesians 2:4-7
With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:17-24
Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
We have been exploring our Christian faith in terms of what it means to be a new person with a new life. Yesterday we looked at surrender. Unless we allow God to be in charge of producing the "new person" and "new life" he has in store for us we will travel a very rocky road in our Christian faith. This is why it is extremely important to make the commitment to always pursue being surrendered to God as fully as possible. Today we look at identity. When we talk about identity in regard to our Christian faith we are talking about who we are in Christ. Having the correct view of ourselves is essential for going forward in our Christian faith in ways that are healthy and successful.
This is where the image of the "picture frame" is particularly helpful. We have the "old frame" that represents our identity before we became ones who put our faith in Christ and we have the "new frame" that represents our identity as ones who have put our faith in Christ. If an entirely new picture (our person and life) were immediately put in the new frame we would be perfect and have no need to stay here living out life on earth. Rather, God begins to paint a new picture of us within our new frame and the picture will not be complete until we are home with him in Heaven someday. Here is where it gets tricky. Becoming the new person God wants us to become and living the new life he wants us to live is a progressive thing. The level of progress we make, however, has a great deal to do with how we view ourselves. There will always be old stuff in our lives but we must not let that define us. We need to define ourselves by the new frame and new painting God is painting.
Let's look at our passages above and some of great things that are said about identity. From Ephesians 2: "We were spiritually dead .... but he gave us new life." From Ephesians 4: "Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life .... put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy." From 1 Corinthians 6: "Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God." We see in each of these the contrast of our old identity and our new identity. The more consistently we focus on and live in the reality our new identity, the more who we are and how we live will be defined by the new and not the old.
It is this consistent focus that is the hinge on which all this hangs. We must meditate on God's Word day in and day out. To help you do this, take a piece of paper and make two columns. Write "I am not ...." above the first column and write "I am .... " above the second column. Then go through the three passages and write things in the first column that pertain to the "old" and things that pertain to the "new" in the second column. As often as you can over the course of this month, but at least once a day, mediate on these columns. Prayerfully seek God's presence and with a great sense of surrender and dependence, renounce "the old" from the first column and embrace "the new" from the second column. You will be amazed at how much this will foster your connection to God, your connection to his Word, and your connection to your true identity in Christ.
Lord, thank you so much for your commitment to me. The love, mercy, grace, and plan you have for me are all truly amazing gifts. Help me to believe, receive, and rest in your provision. I commit myself to doing what it takes to focus consistently on my true identity in Christ. I look forward to the fuller way you will be painting the picture of the new person and new life you have for me going forward.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Matthew 9:36-38
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:3-6
In our prayers we always thank God for you. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank him because we have heard about the faith you have in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all of God’s people. Your faith and love continue because you know what is waiting for you in heaven—the hope you have had since you first heard the true message, the Good News that was told to you. Throughout the world, this Good News is bringing blessings and is spreading. And that’s what has been happening among you since the first time you heard it and understood the truth about God’s grace. Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people .... As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia. And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4, 7-8
With the goal of gaining a fuller understanding of what it means to be a new person with a new life through our relationship with Christ, we set out this week to examine three words: surrender, identity, and vocation. Surrender has to do with our commitment to Christ who is in charge of producing the "new person" and "new life" he has in store for us (See Wednesday's devotional). Identity is all that we are in Christ as he makes us into a new person with a new life (See Thursday's devotional). Vocation is our calling (central purpose for why we are here) to the life-long pursuit of letting the new person we are becoming and the new life that is unfolding have an impact on the people and world around us.
Let's begin our focus on "vocation" by pointing out that it is not really possible to separate vocation from identity. We might say that identity is who we are and vocation is what we do. When we explored identity yesterday we did so with the focus being more on who we are, but it would not be inaccurate to say that our identity includes both who we are and what we do. This is because what we do is the outworking of who we are. So, in this sense identity includes vocation. It is interesting that when we meet someone new, conversation almost always turns to the question, "what do you do (for a living)?" and not "who are you (as a person)?" So, generally what we do is very much a part of our identity.
Vocation on the human level almost always has to do with one's career. Some people have a sense of calling to their careers, but many do not. Spiritually, we are all called to a career of serving the kingdom. Serving the kingdom is our primary vocation, just as our primary identity is who we are in Christ (at least in the way we considered it in yesterday's devotional). Take some time to go back through the passages above, both reading and thinking about the highlighted portions. These are the kind of expressions about spiritual vocation that need to shape how we view ourselves in regard to vocation so that we can move more and more toward it really being true that our primary vocation is serving the kingdom.
When Pastor Ben introduced the new series called "Framed" last Sunday, he said, "When we invite Christ into our lives, he does more than give us an eternal ticket. He gives us a new "frame." He also said that as we explore this new frame or new picture or new identity over the next three weeks, we will be looking at those who have a new story. Pastor Ben then introduced Jen Merryman as an example on someone with a new story. Jen then came and shared her presentation. She showed us the new frame or story of her vocation as well. Jen also shared examples of the new frame or new story of several other remarkable people. Please scroll down to Sunday, May 10th in the Devotionals and you will find the "Message Summary" that covers Jen Merryman's presentation if you would like to read it.
It is important to keep in mind that it usually does not necessitate a change in career and calling on the human level to make serving the kingdom your primary vocation. As a matter of fact, God is particularly interested in showing his people how to make an impact for the kingdom right where they are in the middle of all they are already doing. Remember, our spiritual vocation is all about letting the new person we are becoming and the new life that is unfolding have an impact on the people and world around us (right where we are).
Lord, thank you for the calling you have on my life. Teach me more and more of what it means to make serving your kingdom my primary vocation. Continue to help me surrender. Continue to shape my identity in Christ. Continue to accomplish your purposes by making my life a blessing to the world around me.
You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created them for your pleasure. Revelation 4:11
Do not be afraid—I am with you! From the distant east and the farthest west I will bring your people home. I will tell the north to let them go and the south not to hold them back. Let my people return from distant lands, from every part of the world. They are my own people, and I created them to bring me glory. Isaiah 43:5-7
We—every one of us—have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us! Isaiah 53:6
For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn .... Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. Romans 11:29, 33-36
This week we have examined what it means to be a new person with a new life through our relationship with Christ in terms of three words: surrender, identity, and vocation. Today we seek to wrap all this up with some very interesting but very challenging considerations.
The Revelation passage above says we were created for God's pleasure. The Isaiah 43 passage above says we were created for God's glory. The fact that we exist for God and that which brings pleasure and glory to him brings us face to face with two extremely important truths: we do not exist for ourselves and God does not exist for us. How do we exist for God and bring pleasure and glory to him? The Isaiah 53 passage tells us that all of us have gone astray and gone our own way. So the first thing that brings God pleasure and glory is our return to him (there is no one who does not need to return). As we see from Isaiah 53 it is Christ's sacrifice for our sins that facilitates our return. Our return brings us back into to a full relationship with God. So, the second thing that brings God pleasure and glory is the intimacy of the love relationship he is able to begin sharing with us upon our return. The third thing that brings God pleasure and glory is the transformation he is able to bring about in our lives through the intimate love relationship he shares with us. The fourth thing that brings God pleasure and glory is the blessing our lives become to other people as he manifests himself through us and uses us to reach and touch other people for him.
The notion that we can somehow live for ourselves is an instrumental part of our going astray from God and doing our own thing with our lives. The notion that God exists for us is an instrumental part of why so many people struggle in their relationship with God after they return to him through Christ. Is it not true that we tend to view Christ's sacrifice for sins (that enables us to return to God) as something he does for us. Have you ever considered that God did this for himself more so than for us? If he created us for his pleasure and glory and we live life for ourselves as we go our own way and do our own thing, then God does not have us available to live for his pleasure and glory. So, God's provision of redemption is something he does for himself before it is something he does for us. It brings us back to himself so that he has us available to live for his pleasure and glory. Would it not make a huge difference if when we responded to Christ and his provision of forgiveness for our sin, we were viewing it as the means for God to have us back so he could do with us whatever he wanted and not so that we could get in on all that he could do for us?
To come to Christ in this way would mean that we were repenting of the independent, selfish, and sinful use of our lives that kept God from having us available to exist for his pleasure and glory. And then it would mean that we were trusting Christ for the forgiveness of sins (our wayward and rebellious life) so he could live in us and produce a life lived for God's pleasure and glory. Coming to Christ in full repentance and faith would mean that right from the start our surrender, identity, and vocation would be in place and we would be a new person with a new life in the full and powerful way God intended. We are looking at the way it might have been in order to see the way it can be. Regardless of the struggles we have had in our relationship with God in terms of being a new person with a new life, we can begin anew this very moment. In the light of today's considerations, go back and read again the devotionals on surrender (Wednesday), identity (Thursday), and vocation (Friday).
God is waiting and longing to do amazing things in our lives. He does act on our behalf in so many wonderful ways, but he does this most easily and most fully when we are wrapped up in him and that which brings him pleasure and glory rather than our being wrapped up in ourselves and what he will do for us. We have three weeks of our "Framed" series that lie before us. It is hoped that the foundation of this week's devotionals will prepare us in some very special ways for what God has in store for us.
Once again it only seems fitting today that you put together your own prayer response to God for those ways he has been working in your life this week. God Bless! Ken Hart