The Gift of Blessings | Devotion #2: Thanks
James Clouse

When I think of a gift, I think of good and bad gifts. Bad gifts would include a full-size pink bunny outfit. A good gift would include an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (Shout-out to The Christmas Story). If you have ever seen this movie, then you understand the disappointment that Ralphie felt when he did not get his toy gun Christmas morning. But then, to his excitement, there behind the tree was one more wrapped gift. You could see the inexpressible joy in his face.  

I get excited when it gets close to the Christmas season. I love everything about Christmas time: the cocoa, snow, and famous radio Christmas songs sung by the great Bing Crosby. But all of these things are not the main reason I get so excited around Christmas. The main reason I get so excited is that Christ has come to save me from my sins. 

The God of Heaven sent His Son, the Christ, to die for us on the cross. I know that I am a sinner in need of salvation. Christ came to offer up that salvation we need and cleansed us before His Father. 

2 Corinthians 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

Inexpressible means a feeling too strong to describe in words. God did not have to say in words how much He loves us because He sent that love down in the form of His Son. There are no better ways to describe God’s love for us than just seeing the amazing sacrifice it took for this to happen. 

I get so excited on Christmas morning to open my gifts. I am like a little child every Christmas morning. When I was a kid my brother and I would get up super early in the morning, separate our gifts into piles, shake them, smell them, and try to tell what they were. My parents would wake up and have their coffee in hand, and we would start opening up gifts as savages tear into a piece of meat. I would take my favorite gift of the morning and what do you think I did? Did I toss it aside and not give it any more thought? Did I take it to my room, hide it under my bed, and never use it? Of course not! My parents would have been shocked and in disbelief. I would proclaim loudly the gift I had just received. I would use it every chance I got just as Ralphie did the moment he opened his gun.

As Christians, we take advantage of the inexpressible gift that God has given us. I believe that God is often shocked and in awe of how little we care about the gift that He has given us. Christians, it is time to recognize the importance of what God has given. Show God this Christmas how thankful you are for His inexpressible gift.

Worst Gift Ever

The Gift of Blessings | Devotion #1: Worst Gift Ever
Ryan Story | Location Pastor – Burton

We live in a weird culture. Recently I saw a viral video trend that had parents giving their children avocados as a Christmas gift. Now I am all for fun and practical jokes, but watching the faces of these children got me thinking about what was being taught to these kids about gifts. I do not think that one practical joke is going to ruin a child forever, and I know that these videos were done out of love and humor. However, the subtle message being sent was to devalue gift giving. Gifts are meant to be given in love. There is an entire love language based off of giving and receiving gifts. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us about how to give gifts. Matthew 7:7-11 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

God only gives good gifts. I think back at all the times I begged God for something, and the thing He gave me seemed to have the same equivalence as a wrapped up avocado. I asked for patience and God gave me a rough day. How often do we ask God for something and He turns and gives us something that we never expected? This we know, God only gives gifts that His children need to the point that Jesus can say “how much more.” Jesus says that when we ask our Heavenly Father for food, He will not give us a stone. If we ask for food, He will not give us a snake. Jesus even goes on to say that those who are evil know how to give gifts! 

So if God only gives good gifts, it would be wise if when we gave gifts, we make them good ones as well. I am not advocating for you to spend more money, but take a moment and think about the last thing you gave your spouse, child, boss, or co-worker. Was it a serpent or was it a blessing? My sons are all about the toy aisle, and I may be just as excited as them, but spending ten minutes with them reading every night is a way better gift. Taking time out of your day to encourage someone, or telling them how much they mean to your life, is way better than any Starbucks gift card. Take time this week to figure out what gifts you are giving.

Jesus to ??? [Only He Knows]

Pastor Josh Combs

“And he has a name written that no one knows but himself.” Revelation 19:12

The final name change in the Bible may come as a great surprise to you. As the Apostle John records the return of Christ, the fierce imagery of Jesus is stunning. John writes,

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like  a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself” (Revelation 19:11-12).

John is seeing the righteous vengeance of Christ. Jesus has returned not to save the world, but He has come in judgment. When He is finished His robe will be covered, not with His own blood like at Calvary, but with the blood of the nations He has crushed. The image of Jesus from Revelation chapter 19 isn’t one you’ll find hanging in any church nursery. In John’s vision of the apocalypse, the Lord has been called many things: King of kings, Lord of lords, the Word of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, the Christ, the Lamb, and the Lord Jesus.

Here John mentions a great mystery. He reveals that Jesus has a name that is known only to Himself. The name, as we understand it, is yet to be revealed. All speculation about the identity of the name is fruitless, because the Bible is clear that “no one knows but himself.”

{Insert Your Name Here} to TBA

Pastor Josh Combs

“To the one who conquers…I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

The Greco-Roman imagery that Jesus uses here in His message to the church at Pergamum can’t be ignored. When an athlete achieved victory, he would be given a white stone with his name carved upon it. This white stone would serve as his entrance pass to a victors’ banquet and celebration of athletic achievement.

The church at Pergamum was engaged in a brutal contest on enemy turf. They were “playing” their fiercest rival in the most difficult “stadium” around. They were on the road, facing the ultimate away game. As John records the direct message from Jesus, the Lord clearly states, “I know….” Christ acknowledges that these Christians are working near “Satan’s throne,” that they have experienced brutal persecution and personal loss, and are under attack from false teachers. Not only is the domain of darkness surrounding them, but wickedly vile “preachers” have brought the fight into the church.  The struggle is real. The game is on and Jesus wants to strengthen, challenge, and encourage His church. The word picture that Jesus paints is that He is waiting at the finish line with a trophy and a personal invitation to a victory celebration for those who conquer.

The Christian life has often been compared to a race with a grueling course but a glorious, long-looked-for finish line. The writer of Hebrews states, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The apostle Paul challenges the Corinthian church to “run that you may obtain” the trophy (1 Corinthians 9:24).

What awaits the victorious believer at the end of the race is our heavenly Father with the prize and an endless “victory parade.”  The Scripture is very specific that this is not a generic prize, but something personal and uniquely special that the victor is given by the Lord. The reason for this is that, as Hebrews teaches, there is a unique race set before each of us. That individual course is fraught with peaks and valleys, obstacles, distractions, trials, and triumphs. What Jesus says is crucial for each athlete (believer) to hear. Jesus says, “I know where you dwell….” William Newell, writing about this passage says, “There is a personal character in all trials, through which the overcomer (that is, the true believer) will be brought to know the Lord in a peculiar way shared by no other.” This is why we speak of a personal relationship with Christ. Because our trials in this life are deeply personal, we are assured by the Lord that our victory and reward will be deeply personal as well.

The white stone given has upon it our new name, encompassing in it the victory that the Lord has carried us. That name, which will be unique to each believer, is given directly by the Savior. The old will be set aside and eclipsed by the new identity that the Lord eternally imparts to each of us. A new name that we will instantly recognize, know, and embrace will show us that the Lord knew the whole time the difficult race that we were running. Just as a trophy or medal identifies the event, so will this new name.

One day our name will be changed by the Lord Jesus. This new name will reflect the fiery trials we endured in life, while giving us entrance into eternal life. So let us run our race, looking to Jesus, knowing He holds a glorious prize.

Today’s Bible Reading:  Revelation 2:12-17;  Hebrews 12:1-2;  1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Saul to Paul

Pastor Josh Combs

“But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.” Acts 13:9

Arguably the most dramatic conversion recorded in all of the Scripture is that of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Saul was, in his own words, “advancing in Judaism beyond many of [his] own age…” (Galatians 1:14). He was a Roman citizen, an extremely well-educated Jewish scholar, and bore the name of the most prominent member of his tribe, King Saul of the Old Testament. What appears to rocket Saul to fame among his Jewish colleagues was his vicious hatred for Christians. Saul’s first appearance in Scripture portrays him as the authorizing force, standing watch over the brutal execution of a Christian named Stephen. “Saul,” the Bible says, “approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). It is as if Stephen’s execution was blood in the water for a shark. Immediately following Stephen’s death, Saul is even more aggressively persecuting the church. “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:3).

On a mission to hunt, arrest, and imprison more Christians, Saul’s life was completely changed. A blinding light encompassed Saul, and the voice of Jesus from the glory of Heaven spoke to the early church’s most vicious enemy. “Saul, Saul,” Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you?” Saul responds.

“I am Jesus,” the Lord replies, “whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4-6). For the next three days, Saul was blind and refrained from eating or drinking anything. God graciously sent a Christian to Saul to pray over him. Saul regained his sight and was immediately baptized. From that encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Saul was never the same. He boldly began proclaiming Jesus. With the same passion and dedication that Saul had in persecuting the church, he would now become its greatest proponent. Saul became the global emissary for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Decades later, while beginning the first of his four missionary journeys, the Bible says, “Saul, who was also called Paul….” And with those simple words, he is never called Saul again. He is henceforth known as Paul. Saul was his prominent Jewish name, which means “asked for” or “demanded.” Paul was his Roman name.

The significance of this transformation is extraordinary. Paul, who had once pursued success, power, prominence, and position within Judaism had abandoned it all. He no longer demanded to be addressed by the name of a king. His Roman name, Paul, was sufficient. Paul means “little.” In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). What he recognized as valuable had completely changed. He goes so far as to call his previous achievements “dung.” The Gospel transformed Saul, a power-hungry religious leader, into Paul, a man who didn’t mind being little. He embraced this dramatic change in his goals and dreams.

The Gospel continues to transform dreams, desires, and pursuits. When we lay aside our selfish ambitions in exchange for “knowing Christ Jesus,” we trade in the temporal for the eternal. Martyred missionary Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus simply said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Saul of Tarsus found his life as Paul, slave of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Bible Reading: Acts 9:1-25; Galatians 1:11-24; Philippians 3:2-11

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