No Scamming Here

Romans 8-10

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Thursday, June 15

There are so many powerful verses in the three chapters for today but the section that really stuck out to me was this:

 

Romans 10:8-13

 

8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,

 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;

13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

 

 

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It doesn’t matter who you are, how you look, what race you are, or how much money you have…we can all be saved!  You believe with your heart, which results in righteous or “right” living, which means you are obedient.  Then, with your mouth, you confess, you speak out loud that Jesus is your Lord.  Calling Jesus your Lord means that you obey him.  He has authority over you and your life is not your own, it is his.  Doing these things, results in salvation!

 

Bonus!!! Our God is abounding in riches for all who call on Him.  It almost seems too good!  Usually when something seems too good to be true, it isn’t true.  It is a scam.  Like when someone calls my phone from a faraway place and tells me I entered a contest and won…and they just need some vital information to process my winnings!  Thousands of dollars could be mine if I will give them my name, social security number, and birthdate.  Humph!  I don’t think so!

 

Scammers market things to you that appear like they will improve your life in some way but truly it is to rob you.  With God, the truth is that He wants you!!  Not only does He want you but He wants to give you the things that money can’t buy like peace, joy, love, and purpose.  Don’t be scammed by the world.  Too many times we have seen people in our small group get the job they have always wanted, promotion, or a boy/girlfriend, only for it to take them away from church and the family of God.  The most precious thing we have is our faith and our hope.  Make a solid confession and live righteously. If you have slipped in some area and are not giving your whole life to your master Jesus Christ, recommit yourself to him and surround yourself with strong believers.

 

God wants you more than anything and those verses above contain the necessary information for you to be with Him forever!

 

1 Timothy 2:4

“who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

 

-Ruth Finnegan

(Photo Credit: http://insta.bible/romans-109-niv/)

 

A Chosen Instrument

Acts 9-12

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Thursday, June 8

Saul fought Christ in every way possible throughout his life up until this point.  He was the most unlikely Jesus follower.  He loved God and served God and thought he was doing His will.  But he thought that Jesus had been a false teacher and liar and that everyone who followed and spread Jesus’ teachings needed to be stopped.  There are people today who think they are doing God’s will but instead are ignorant of the truth, possibly because, like Saul, they don’t understand who Jesus is.

 

And then came the light!  Following the spectacular flash of light and the great voice of Jesus, Saul was led to Damascus where he was blind and did not eat or drink for three days.   I imagine this was a time of tremendous wrestling and questioning and perhaps doubting everything that he thought he had known about his whole life’s work and about Jesus.

 

Enter Ananias.  In a vision, Ananias, a follower of Jesus, is given specific directions to find Saul and place his hands on him to heal him.  Ananias answers, telling the Lord what a bad guy Saul is and how dangerous this could be.  Has the Lord ever tried to send you in one direction and instead you had your list of reasons why it didn’t make sense?  God’s work and His will doesn’t always make sense to us, and it doesn’t ‘have’ to make sense.  Our list of excuses and reasoning is worth nothing in comparison to God’s plan and desire for us.  So the patient Lord once again told Ananias, “This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”  (Acts 9:15).  How might you also be the Lord’s chosen instrument?  To whom has he prepared and designed you to carry His name?  Perhaps not to kings, but maybe to your neighbor and facebook friends and co-workers?

 

So, with no more excuses left, Ananias went to Saul and placed his hands on him to give him sight.  Ananias told Saul he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  With the Lord’s powerful light, three days spent questioning what he had thought he had known, and Ananias’ faithful intervention, Saul realized the mistake he had made in his life and he was healed and baptized.  Just like Saul, anyone can change their life and follow Jesus.  God can set anyone straight.  Keep praying for those fighting against Christ and consider how He wants you to carry His name to others?

-Jason Railton

Living Words

Acts 7-8

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Wednesday, June 7

Stephen had an interesting life that was cut way too short.  I wonder what would have happened had he lived longer?  How many more people could he have reached?  I admire the way he knew his Old Testament history.  Beginning with Abraham leaving his country, Stephen then recounts stories of Isaac and Joseph and Moses.

 

In verse 38 of Chapter 7, it tells us of the living words Moses received to pass on to us.  These words are still being passed on to this day.  Even when people hear the living words, they have a choice of what to do.  Back in Moses’ day, these living words were rejected.  The people refused to obey and in their hearts turned back to Egypt (7:39).  How have you heard the living words and what has your response been?  Are you listening to these words or rejecting them?

 

I respect the courage Stephen had in saying what needed to be said even if it meant angering those who could kill him.  Even as he was being stoned, he was full of the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  Stephan prayed that the Lord Jesus would receive his spirit and he asked him to not hold this sin against them.  This is an example of an extremely dedicated and devoted man of God.  How many of us can praise God as Stephan did while being persecuted?

 

While Godly men buried Stephen, Saul began to destroy and persecute the church.  Tomorrow we will hear more about Saul and his stories.

 

-Jason Railton

 

 

 

Spreading the Word

Acts 5-6

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Tuesday, June 6

As we continue into chapters 5 and 6 , Peter and the apostles could have stopped spreading the Word of God because of fear of discipline from the Sanhedrin.  Instead, they continued to teach and preach and perform miracles, always pointing others to Christ.  Once again they were arrested and put into jail.  In the night, an angel of the Lord appeared to them and instructed them to go back out into the temple courts in the morning to tell the people the full message.

Verse 42 of chapter 5 says, “Day after day in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”  This verse explains pretty well that they persevered and just kept going and going and going.  Ask yourself this, “Who have I talked to today?”  Or this week?  Are we as dedicated to spreading the Word as Peter?  What can we do to become better at spreading the good news?  How can we all become more like Peter?

So my question to you today is, “Are you obeying God rather than men?”

-Jason Railton

 

Be Bold!

Acts 3-4

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Monday, June 5

Peter and John were arrested for teaching about Jesus.  In 4:18, it says the Sanhedrin (the rulers, elders and teachers of the law,  making up Israel’s supreme court)  called them in again and commanded them to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  Peter and John replied, and in verses 19-20, they said:  “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard”  What do we do today?  Do we listen to authorities rather than what God tells us to do?  Are we too tied up in being politically correct to say this or that or just plain don’t say anything at all just to be ‘safe.’  I think many people today don’t want to ruffle any feathers so they just sit quiet.  Do you stand up for what God says, or keep your mouth shut?

 

This just makes me think about being bold and not being afraid to speak the truth.  You should pay more attention to what God would desire, rather than being afraid you might offend someone.

 

In 4:23 it says: “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”  So when we see something that doesn’t agree with a teaching from God, are we silent, or do we speak up and explain what is right in God’s eyes.

 

In verse 29 it says:  “Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”  Peter and John asked the Lord for extra boldness to speak His word.  Perhaps we should request the gift of boldness when it pertains to speaking up for what God instructs is correct.  This week let’s look for more opportunities to be bold.

-Jason Railton

 

Why Am I Reading This?

John 20-21

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Saturday, June 3

If you are in high school, you have asked this question sometime this year. If you are in college, the question probably gives you flashbacks of finals. If you are like me, you are 300 pages deep in a 400 page textbook by the time the question comes up. By that point, you are too doggedly determined to put the book down. “By gum, I’m gonna finish it!” the stubborn, stalwart voice in my head says.
Truthfully, it is a great question. When we ask, “Why am I reading/watching/listening/responding to this?” we ask a bunch of questions at once. What do I hope to gain from this? How will this knowledge inform my future actions? In what way does this information or content contribute to my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial success and well-being? And the answers to “why am I reading this?” may be diverse. Maybe, like us college & graduate school students, you read something simply to gain the information from it for a test or project. Maybe you are reading to make wiser decisions in the future. But beyond these questions, which we ask of ourselves, this is also a question we ask of the author. We are also asking, “Why did you write this?” Why did J.R.R. Tolkien put pen to paper and craft some of the most iconic stories ever? (Lord of the Rings) Why did C.S. Lewis tell of magic (The Chronicles of Narnia), of angels and demons (The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy), and teach through his lovable, accessible, British way (Mere Christianity)?
In the Bible, this question doesn’t get answered too often. The Book of Job doesn’t tell us why the author wrote it. Sure we have very informed guesses, like, “The good and righteous will suffer. That is the way of this world.” But never once does the author tell us WHY he (or she) wrote the text. The authors of Matthew, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, similarly did not take the time to tell you why they wrote. Again, there is a case to be made that the purpose can be found, like “to record history.” But then, why is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life so different than John’s, and why do 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles differ so greatly in their retelling of the same events? (There are answers to these questions. They are not easy answers, but they help us in understanding the text, if we are willing to do the work.)
All this is to point to two of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, John 20:30-31. If you have never memorized a verse in your life (John 3:16?), seriously, start with these two in John, because they could basically sum up the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT. Actually, there is a case to be made that the ENTIRE BIBLE could be summed up in these beautiful words.
John 20:30-31 –  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
The author of John completely acknowledges he left things out. It doesn’t matter to him that every single detail down the line be absolutely perfect. He does not even begin to suggest that he told the story in chronological order. There is no way to make the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and John compatible, with one single “correct order of the life of Jesus.” That isn’t the author’s point. The author didn’t write this Gospel to give us another “play-by-play” of Jesus’ life.
What the author does say, the reason why he put his pen to paper, what the Spirit was doing in him when it moved in and used him to write down words through the authors hand and brain, is so that YOU may believe. You reader. Not another “you”. I’m talking to you. These signs, these teachings, this crucifixion and death are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The author cares about how you deal with this. See, if at the end of the day you are done reading John and you say “Jesus was a really good man” or “Jesus was a wise teacher” then YOU’VE MISSED THE POINT. The point is not that Jesus was a pretty cool dude, or that he was a man who died for what he believed in. He was inaugurating the Kingdom of God by coming, and that we can choose to be a part of God’s Kingdom now; in other words, he is the Messiah. He came to live a perfect life, overcome the world, and be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; in other words, he is the Son of God. Any other reading of John is a mistake. It is wrong. Jesus is not just another good leader, good religious teacher, good dude. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son.
If you end up believing in WHO Jesus is, in WHO he pointed us toward, in WHAT he was doing by ushering in a new way of being, then you have hit the point of the message of Jesus. You understand what the author of John was doing in all these many chapters, in signs, teachings, moments with the Savior. Moreover, by believing in Jesus, you will have life in his name, eternal life, abundant life now that can’t help but last forever! I hope that is where you find yourself today. The reason why I write so much about John is because I love it. I am a mess. I am a broken and sinful mess. But there are a couple things I know. I see these signs, these miracles and this death and resurrection and I have to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And because I believe, I know that I have life because of him. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve. But I’ve got it. Come, you who are also undeserving, just like me. You sinners like me. You broken messes like me. Jake, like John, calls out “Believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing, you too can have life in his name!”
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: https://biblia.com/bible/esv/John.20.29)

How Do You Crown Your King?

John 18-19

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Friday, June 2

(This is a longer post. Please give yourself ample time to read it and pray over the questions at the end.)
Interesting trivia: the Greek Orthodox Church fasts every Wednesday and Friday. Every single one. Why? There are reasons to believe the Jews began this practice of fasting and that they carried it on. Beyond that, they also add a religious and theological reason: on Wednesday Christ was betrayed and on Friday Christ was killed. Every single week they remind themselves that they are in some way responsible for the Son of God hanging on the Cross.
These are the chapters we read this week in John 18-19. They tell the story of Jesus’ betrayal, torture, crucifixion and death through the eyes of John. What can we learn from this?
First, Jesus said, “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:11) Jesus accepted that this was the way that God had given him, and did not want to resist this way with violence. We can be so much like Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus. We can be so  quick to violence. But Jesus, even with these men sent to kill him, his worst enemies on earth, was about peace, love and healing. Luke 22:51 expounds the story by finishing up the scene. “But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, He healed him.”
That’s because Jesus is not focused on the injustice of what is being done to him. He is not looking for his personal justice. Jesus is, instead, focusing on his God-given destiny and duty. When being questioned by Pilate, he says “You say that I’m a king.” Jesus goes on to say,  “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”(John 18:37) Jesus is focused, in the middle of supreme injustice and false imprisonment, on why he was born, the reason for his existing. And what is that purpose? Not to disparage any evangelical preacher, but Jesus did not merely come to do three days’ work. Instead, he came to “testify to the truth.” The truth is humans need to be saved from their sins, he is that salvation, he is the only way to salvation, eternal life and the spirit will be given to those who seek this truth.
In the midst of this, we also see a picture of the world. Now, I’m of a specific bent that says God does not control every facet of the universe. God does not predetermine or force my hand and only make me act as he wants me or wills me to act. However, this does not mean that the world is completely and utterly out of control. In a way that is completely unknown to me, a way that I daresay we should call a mystery, God controls certain events, outcomes, or situations. Here, Jesus seems to take comfort in the fact that his own torture and death is not outside of the plan of God. God knew, “If my Son goes among the Jews and tells them the truth, they will crucify him. I will give humanity the authority to do so.” God isn’t wringing his hands in heaven saying, “I wish I could do something, but I’m not strong enough!” Nor is God a puppet master with all the strings making his marionettes dance. He is working out his will inside the real, free, true choices of humanity.
Interestingly, Pilate may have gotten it. Pilate, according to all the history books was a brutal and bloodthirsty man ready to squash any rebellion with the slightest whiff. But I think he understood who he was talking to in Jesus and what the Jews were asking of him. He seems to have answered his own question “What is truth?” And he answers it with the inscription above Jesus’ head “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” written in every common language. The truth is that in this suffering, we see the ultimate juxtaposition. A savior killed like a slave, a righteous man made wretched, a King on a cross. THAT’S the symbol we gravitate toward. That’s the symbol that defines Christianity. It is a cross that shows the greatest moment of humanity, depravity and sin, and the greatest moment of the God-granted mercy, compassion and love.
Then, Jesus dies. There’s no fanfare in the book of John. It is interesting that what happens in the other gospels, the earthquake and the darkness and the resurrection of righteous ones, are summarily overlooked or forgotten. They pale in comparison to the fact that the King of the Jews, the bread of life, the water of life, the SON OF GOD is hanging dead on a cross. This man, who only loved, who only wanted the best. Who demanded that the pharisees live the same life they demanded of everyone else. Who said “turn the other cheek” and “do not judge unless you are ready to be judged”. Who said “blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted.” This man who lived a life of perfect relationship and obedience to God, is hanging limp on a cross, covered in blood and bodily fluids. His arms and legs are no longer straining against the nails because he feels the pain no longer. His body bears the marks of scourging. His face is beaten beyond recognition, and above the bruises and laceration that disfigure the face of the Messiah, sits a crown of thorns, a gift from humanity to inaugurate our King.
There are many questions to ask of ourselves after this.
Do you treat your enemies with love and respect?
In times of trouble do you rest secure in the knowledge that you have a larger purpose than simply existing for today?
Do you even know what the larger purpose of your life is? Do you know specifically what the goal of your life is?
Do you rest secure in the knowledge that God is ultimately in control, whatever that might mean?
But above all of this is: what does it mean, FOR YOU, that the Son of God died on a cross? What does it mean for you that Jesus was tortured unjustly by a religious institution that couldn’t handle the fact that they were, in fact, broken and messed up and needed some saving? What does it mean for you that you were just as much responsible for the death of Jesus as Pilate and Caiaphas?
What will you do? We’ve place the crown of thorns of his head.
Will we cast our crown before him and acknowledge that Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?
Will you commit to making him YOUR Lord, the Lord of every part of your life?
In Christ,
Jake Ballard