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Gather • Devotion #6: Witness
Dr. Randy T. Johnson | Growth Pastor

Ben Franklin said, “We need God to be our friend not our enemy. We need Him to be our ally not our adversary. We need to make sure we keep God’s concurring aid. If a sparrow cannot fall without God’s notice, how can our nation rise without His aid?” This is so powerful and right on track. We need God to be our friend. We do not want to fight with Him. I like how Franklin referenced Matthew 10:29-33 when he speaks of the sparrows, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Franklin referenced the Bible and acknowledged that God is always watching us and that He sees everything. The Bible was used for illustrations, but more importantly, it was used to help develop our country. The Sixth Amendment addresses the topic of having a fair trial with witnesses, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

The concept of having witnesses and a fair trial is clearly seen in Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” One person cannot frame another on his statement alone. There needs to be at least another witness. Matthew 18:16 also talks about having witnesses, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” These verses remind us that the first course of action is not to go to court; it is to go to the person.

John Quincy Adams also expressed his sentiments about God’s Word when he said, “The first and almost only book deserving of universal attention is the Bible. I speak as a man of the world…and I say to you, ‘Search the Scriptures.’”

Our founding fathers were followers of God and strived to live by His Word. Our country was founded on godly principles. We are blessed because of it.

Justice and Morality

Gather • Devotion #5: Justice and Morality
Dr. Randy T. Johnson | Growth Pastor

John Adams said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is whole inadequate to the government of any other.” I am thrilled to read about men of old who influenced our lives today. President Adams understood the importance of doing the right thing. It is interesting he did not just say morality. He understood that morality is not enough in itself, it needs to be God focused. He emphasized religion because he wanted to make sure we remembered how we become clean. It is only through God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we can truly live right.

The purpose of our government was to establish justice. The Bible addresses this issue. Leviticus 19:15 says, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” It is sad that we need to be reminded that we should be fair and honest. God knew favoritism would be a problem. The command is repeated in Deuteronomy 1:17, “Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” God gives guidelines for administering justice, but He also reminds us that He is the Ultimate Judge. God will judge, and we need to rule carefully today.

In governing the country, the people understood that they were God’s servants. Romans 13:4 says, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Twice the phrase “God’s servants” is used. It is clear that God is emphasizing an important concept to us. They are from God and should operate on behalf of God.

When people understand the Golden Rule, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:14), it covers most of the laws. Do unto others as you would want them to do to you is a great mission statement for our lives.

Have a proper mindset. Judge and rule fairly. Live humbly.

“If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” Daniel Webster

Winnowing Fork

Ministry #5  November 17 Winnowing Fork

Let me set the stage.  Hundreds of people are gathered at the shore of the Jordan River.  Imagine: you are meandering through the crowd of people, and John the Baptist calls you to repent of your sins and turn to the Messiah.  You find yourself believing what he is telling you, and John baptizes you in the river.  Excitement comes over you.  The feeling is great!  You make your way back to the shore and right after you get done drying off, the same guy utters these words:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  Matthew 3:11-12

Then you think to yourself: Winnowing fork? Threshing floor? Chaff? Unquenchable fire?!?  What in the world is this guy saying?  Did I not just get baptized?  But now he is telling me someone is going to baptize me with the Holy Spirit and fire??

I asked myself those questions while reading this portion of Scripture.  Let us start with what we do know.  The Bible is very clear on how to be saved.  John 3:16 covers that.  After you have truly believed that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again to pay for your sins, the Bible is clear that your next step is to be baptized.  It is a step of obedience.  This step tells other people you are now associated with the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  The word ‘baptism’ means ‘immersion by water.’  Jesus Himself was baptized by going under water, and we are all supposed to imitate Jesus. So, what does John mean when he said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire?”

John uses this powerful analogy to prove a point.  He is simply saying that he only has the ability to baptize you with water.  But the Messiah (who is Jesus) is coming after him and has the actual power to incorporate your soul with the Holy Spirit.  When you believe in Jesus, the belief baptizes you in that fire.  You take on the Holy Spirit who helps guide you through life so you can live it more abundantly.  Then, and only then, when Jesus separates (with his winnowing fork), those who have believed (wheat) from those who have not (chaff), will you be able to withstand the fire that separates the wheat from the chaff.  Wheat stays in Heaven and chaff is burnt up with unquenchable fire.

Water baptism is symbolic of being baptized with the Spirit.  It is an outward expression of an inward connection to Jesus.  So how about it?  When life is over, and you stand before God Almighty, is He going to take his winnowing fork and sift you like chaff?  Or is he going to gather you like wheat?

Tommy Youngquist

Children’s Pastor

Sharables Lesson 2 – Devotion 1

Sharables Lesson 2 – Hog Haven
Dr. Randy T. Johnson | Growth Pastor

I am not sure the story is true, but it goes something like this:  There were these three gravitationally challenged (little) Sus Scrofa Domesticus (pigs) who decided to each build a dwelling.  I do not think the fact that they were little plays a part in the story, nor do I believe it is a story about birth order.  However, the first “pig” (not intended to be a derogatory term) built his house out of straw and went off to play.  Personally, I have not seen pigs play, but that is beside the point.  The second “pig” builds his structure out of sticks.  I become a little concerned here because although I have beautiful vinyl siding, it is covering a stick built Cape Cod.  He too takes to gaming.  The third diligent over-achiever painstakingly presses on with bricks.  Brick homes are beautiful but can be costly.  I can imagine that straw or hay and sticks could be found for free.  Where does the third pig get the money for the bricks?  Does he make his own?  Side note: please do not confuse this pig with the “one that went to the market.”    

The time comes when the wolf shows up for a house call (it is interesting how often even fairy tales associate a wolf as a dangerous enemy to be avoided).  He and his appetite are not welcomed with pigs.  The first pig tries to send him away, but he refuses (somehow the straw house had a door that locks).  After verbal threats, he huffs and puffs (I think you know this part) and blows the house down.  Piggy number one runs to the stick house and is welcomed in with the door shut and locked behind.  Since we have accepted the fact that pigs and wolves can talk, we can press on with the story.  The same scenario happens with them running to the brick shelter.  House number three wins so bacon, sausage, and ham live happily ever after or something like that.

The story is cute, but what about our lives?  We set Jesus as the foundation, but what are we building on it each day?

When Jesus was challenged by the “biggest baddest wolf of all time,” He responded with Scripture.  Jesus limited Himself to the point He needed to study the Word.  He then was able to use it to refute the enemy.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Jesus Christ is the foundation.  Spending time with Him in reading the Word, meditation, prayer, and gathering with other believers helps strengthen our stand against the storms of life.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Sharables Lesson 1 – Devotional 6

Sharables Lesson 1 – The God Who Sees Me
Dr. Randy T. Johnson | Growth Pastor

Do you ever feel all alone?  Do you feel forgotten?  Does it seem like no one cares?  Hagar felt that way.  In Genesis 16:11-14 God reaches out to her at her lowest moment, “And the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son.  You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction.  He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.’  So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’ Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.”  Her response is interesting.  She gives God a name.  She calls Him “El Roi” which is translated “the God who sees me.”  She goes on to name the well “Beer-lahai-roi” which is translated as “the well of Him that lives and sees me.”

God sees you.  He takes notice.  He watches.  He cares.

As I have mentioned before, I worked security while attending Seminary.  I used to work for two different companies, and it allowed me to work full-time (midnights) and gave me time to study (they loved it as I was one of the few who stayed awake).  One night the alarm went off at Baylor College of Dentistry.  I was the only one on duty.  I had no weapon (I did grab a flashlight).  The phone lines were down.  It was before everyone carried a phone.  I remember going down a stairwell to see what was wrong.  The door was open (It was locked earlier).  I secured the door and went on.  I needed to make my rounds.  My heart was pumping overtime.  I remember walking through a lobby that had several mirrors.  They caught me off guard as I saw several people (who were all me).  I admit I am quite the sight at 4:00 am.  Even as I walked by the vending machines, everything was quiet until the pop machines compressor turned on.  I was ready to swing the flashlight, and I think I would have won that battle.  I was a mess.  I sat down at my security desk and opened my Bible to Psalm 139.  Enjoy verse 7-12:

  “Where shall I go from your Spirit?

    Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

    and your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,

    and the light about me be night,’

even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is bright as the day,

    for darkness is as light with you.”

It is so comforting to know that God sees us and cares.  He loves us, and He is in control.  We all had those fears of basements and the stairs that are open for someone or thing to reach through.  Do you remember waking up in the night wanting to go to the bathroom, but you were not sure what was under the bed?  How about spending the night at grandma’s house and hearing noises?  We all had and probably even have fears.  As we get older, it may be watching a spouse go to serve our country or a child leave for the mission field.  It could be driving through a neighborhood or giving our child the car keys.

The next time fear barks, reply with “El Roi!” “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).  The God who sees is watching you.  Take control with prayer and Psalm 139.

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