Monthly Archives: December, 2016

Going Beyond Salvation

God’s Present • Devotion #6: Going Beyond Salvation
Jared Bruder | Growth Intern

 “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:9-12). Christmas is the time of year we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose again paying the penalty for our sins bringing salvation to you and me.

Salvation from the penalty of our sin is an absolutely amazing gift, but Christ has given us so much more beyond salvation. Romans 5 explains several other gifts beyond salvation that Jesus brought to man. Throughout Romans 5, we see that Jesus has brought us peace with God, access to God, hope, and He has even given us the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Along with salvation, Jesus has made us at peace with God. We are no longer enemies of God. Romans 5:2a says, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith.” We now have access to God through Jesus Christ. Continuing on in the passage Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Through Jesus, we can endure our trials, and thus it produces hope. Finally, Romans 5:5 says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We see through this passage that Jesus has brought so much more than salvation from hell.

Remember we do not deserve any of this including salvation from hell. Jesus did not have to die for us, but He did because He loves us. Jesus could have stopped at bringing salvation from hell, but He loved us and brought even more than that. Jesus brought us peace with God, access to God, hope, and the Holy Spirit. All of these gifts we have been given allow us to live a life pleasing to God. All we must do is accept and use these gifts in our life. Spend time with God, hope in God, allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life, and always remember Christ died for us. The least we could do is live for Him.

God is Present

God’s Present • Devotion #5: God is Present
Philip Piasecki | Worship Leader

The holiday season is one that can bring both great joy and great sorrow. For many families, it is a time to gather together, spend time with one another, and encourage one another. Unfortunately, for many others, it is a time where the people who are not present become much more magnified. Possibly it is a family member who has passed away, a relationship that has ended, or bridges that have been burned between friends or family members. When everyone is gathered together, it is much more apparent as to those who are missing. When I spent some time thinking about the idea of “God’s Present” the phrase “God is present” kept coming into my mind. During a season where it is very easy to start to focus on who is not present in our life, the phrase “God is present” has become such an encouragement for me, and I hope it can be for you as well.

The truth that God is present in our lives can be found throughout Scripture. Matthew 1:23 says, “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Jesus’ name tells us that He is God incarnate! God sent His Son so that He could live in the midst of His people, and eventually give His life on a cross to make a way for salvation. When we have given our lives to Christ, we can know that God is with us in every situation. Psalm 46:1-2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” When we are going through times of trouble, we can rest in the fact that God is our refuge and our strength. The Scripture says that He is a very present help. We do not follow a God that watches us from afar, not interested in what is happening in our lives. We follow a God that is present in the midst of our every circumstance. No matter what is going on, He is there to help calm the storm. He loves us enough to give us strength in the midst of every situation.

John 14:16-18 says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” When Jesus physically left this earth, He promised to send a helper. Christ promised that He would not leave us as orphans. He sent us His Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us so that He could be with us at all times. When you feel like no one is there for you, when you feel hopeless in your current situation, know that God is present in the center of the storm with you. He loves you; the Holy Spirit will guide and direct you, and we just need to trust Him.

God IS present.

God is Present is the Present!

God’s Present • Devotion #4: God is Present is the Present!
Pastor Jeff England | Counseling Pastor

“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” (Psalms 139:7-12).

David took a moment to contemplate God’s incredible knowledge of him both inwardly and externally. He exclaims that even the darkness, which includes our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, is as light to God. He is not contained and cannot be limited in His presence or availability.  What if there was one person who knew every thought, feeling, and attitude you ever conceived? Is there any person in your life with whom you would not feel extreme shame if at all times they wholly knew your mind and heart? Probably not.  We often ignore the fact that God does know it all! Even though we can choose to forget God’s omniscience, it is unavoidable.

This is possibly the most difficult trait of God for us to comprehend:  He is everywhere at all times completely unlimited by time or space.  Why should He be restrained by the concepts of time and space when He Himself created them? I chuckle when I think about our frustration when we struggle with trying to be in two places at once. We are always late to one or miss the other. Not God. Lewis Sperry Chafer points out in his volumes on Systematic Theology that if God was anything short of 100% present in 100% of all universes, He could not be God.

The fact that God is always present in every situation, with full knowledge of our every thought, emotion, and weakness is a wonderful gift. He understands our humanness; therefore, we need not let the enemy succeed in his efforts to imprison us with fear, guilt, resentment, and shame. God wants us to use His presence as a foundation for strength and perseverance.

Moses understood the value of God’s constant presence. In Exodus 33:15, he made it clear that he was not going to take a single step without God. God told Moses in verse 14 that, “…My presence shall go with thee, and I will give you rest.” The word “rest” in Hebrew means “Comfortable, quiet rest”.

Wow! Not only is God promising us that He will always be there through all of our struggles and hurts, but also that in His presence we will find comfort and rest.

For years, I have heard people who are hurting tell me that they cannot feel God’s presence. I too have felt this in my own life, and there have been many times in which I have wished God had skin. When one of these times invade your life, take a moment to look around you and remember the earthly and tangible evidence that we do have of God’s presence.  We have witnessed God’s presence through lives and hearts that have been changed. We see Him in the beauty of our children, the wonder of nature and animals, the sun, moon, and stars. In those moments when you feel so alone, remember the truth that David and Moses understood. He is there, He knows your pain, and He wants to give you rest and comfort. Believe God is present and pursue His presence. Focus on what you know He has done in your life and in the lives of others. Be humble enough to examine your own heart to see if you are bound by a sin or attitude that is hindering His desire to be intimate with you. Praise Him in thought or through music. Enmesh yourself in Scripture. These are but a few ways to invite God’s presence into our lives and overcome the loneliness we sometimes feel when struggles appear to be overwhelming.

I hope that this Christmas season provides you with some time for quiet, comfortable rest with loved ones. As we celebrate the incredible present God gave us in Jesus, let us also celebrate the fact that in every aspect of our lives, HE IS PRESENT!

“And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee: he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: Fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

He Never Looks Down on Us for Asking

God’s Present • Devotion #3: He Never Looks Down on Us for Asking
Pastor Ryan Story | Student Pastor

I remember asking Santa for some pretty crazy things. I was a huge basketball fan as a kid and for some reason, I thought Charles Barkley was awesome. I remember asking Santa for a 76er’s jersey signed by Sir Charles himself. Now clearly in 1989, that would have been a hard thing for “Santa” to get me, but it did not stop me from asking. There was never a moment that I felt like Santa thought I was a fool for asking.

Have you ever needed to ask God for something and you were a bit afraid of it? I have worked with students for some time now, and a lot of times when a teenager wants to pray for a member of their family, they have some thought in their head that God cannot help them. There are times where I have talked with teenagers who are struggling with issues, and they think God will be mad if they confess their sins to Him. Somehow, we believe that the man with a belly like a bowl full of jelly is more understanding than the creator of the universe!

God honors bold faith. One of my favorite Old Testament stories is when Joshua asked God to stop the sun from setting. Feel free to read Joshua 10, but there is never a moment when God says to Joshua, “Hey that is too crazy, leave me alone.”  Read the Bible, if a person is asking God with a pure heart and the correct motives, He never looks down on us for having the faith to ask Him for the impossible.

No Race or Gender Bias

One day my brother and I were having a heated argument filled with the most intellectual and logical statements a six and seven year old could muster. The argument was over the description on the back of our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s Party Van. I was convinced that Santa only delivered gifts in English, while my brother took the stance that he would have changed the language it was made in. It did not make sense to me why Santa would change the language because clearly, every Santa I ever saw in the mall was white and Anglo Saxon. Why would he treat a random Swedish child with the same love as me? In my head, I was convicted that since I wrote the letters, and I visited Santa in the mall, I was clearly the favorite.

I am glad I have a bit more of a worldview than I had when I was six. As a kid, I figured Santa favored Americans. I feel that as Christians we sometimes take that worldview. Imagine having the worldview that Jesus is for the Americans, Muhammad is for people in the Middle East, Krishna is for India, and Buddha is for all oriental people. Sadly, that is the misguided view of religion. The truth that when the angel in Luke 2 says, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” He was not saying a savoir for whites, Americans, Canadians, and European or even man or woman. Christ is the savoir of the world. He loves everyone equally. As Santa has no sense of bias neither does Christ. Jesus loves everyone equally. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less. As this season rolls forward, take some time and figure out how to love with no bias like Jesus.

God’s Gifts and Santa’s Gifts

God’s Present • Devotion #2: God’s Gifts and Santa’s Gifts
Pastor Ryan Story | Student Pastor

I remember how spectacular Christmas was when I was a child. As a kid making my Christmas list, there was nothing I could not ask for. I asked for any and everything without the first thought about how much those things cost. However, as I got older, my list went from child-filled wonderment to things that were more practical and necessary. I stopped asking for everything and started for more of a realistic choice.  Adulthood starts to replace childlike awe, not just about Christmas but also about life. While that was helpful for anyone shopping for me at Christmas, the healthy shift in my wish list reflected an unhealthy shift in my heart.

Now I grew up in a non-Christian household. There was no Jesus during Christmas, but I did lose something, as I grew older. I lost that childlike faith that only small children have. Now I cannot look at my life and recount the times as a child that I believed in Jesus, but I can look back and think about when I started looking at Jesus differently. For the next two days, I wanted to look at the ways children look at Santa and the way we should look at God.

Santa does run out of gifts. God does not run out.

Have you ever seen a Christmas list from a child? Those things are well thought out and long.  No matter how crazy of a request, children ask Santa for gifts with no fear of supply or demand. A child never expects to see a note from Santa that reads, “Sorry Tommy, we ran out.”  As a Christian, have you ever gotten to a place where you do not feel like God can help you? You find yourself thinking that your weekly quota of grace and love has been exceeded so you cannot ask God for forgiveness (Psalm 103:12). Your walk with Jesus has been unstable so you cannot ask Him to “make straight your path” (Proverbs 3). Children can look to a man in red and believe that he is unlimited. Those of us who know the one true God, who have “tasted and seen his goodness” (Psalm 34) have a tendency of limited God.

It never burdens Santa

Ask any child about Santa’s workload. In every story you read, any movie you watch, he and the elves start working the day after Christmas. The list starts to be made, the toys start to be constructed, and the reindeer need to engage in their games. The whole operation that Santa runs is over the top. Yet no child would ever say that he or she is burdening Santa because the child believes he is capable of doing anything.

Do you believe that God can do anything? Most every Christian would say, yes, but take a moment and think of a time you felt that you were a bother to God. It may just be me, but I have found myself praying for the same thing, pleading for help with the same struggles, and failing daily. I felt like the reason I was not “getting it” was because God was annoyed with me. The reality all the work it takes to make the universe operate like clockwork, all the work needed to allow our circulatory and nervous system to run properly, is not even on God’s radar when it comes to a burden. He is almighty; therefore, no amount of work could ever burden our Lord. Take some time to read Psalm 55, God cannot become tired, He cannot become faint, and He is so strong He requests our burdens.

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