Devotions

Author Archives: John Carter

Philemon

Lesson Fifteen | Devotion #4: Philemon
John Carter | Director of Finance & HR

The power of forgiveness

There is a small short book in the New Testament called Philemon. It has only one chapter, so it is not a long read. The story that it tells is that of forgiveness. It is a powerful story indeed. Before you read this short devotion, I would encourage you to read the book.

The early church did not meet in a big elaborate cathedral or adorned buildings; often they met in fellow believers’ homes. Philemon was one of those early church believers that did this. Paul speaks very highly of Philemon, and you soon see that he is a world changer in his involvement with Paul and other churches in the area.

Paul says, “…because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints… for I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

Philemon was a man that did much in helping his fellow believers, whether it was from his wealth, home, or other resources, it is known that he gave them to honor Jesus and God.

Paul then pleads with Philemon on behalf of a man named Onesimus, who was most likely a former servant of Philemon. There was a wrong that took place between Onesimus and Philemon which Paul references, “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment… for this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.”

I find myself reflecting on these words and wondering what Philemon must have felt. A man that had most likely done something wrong to him had come to know Christ in prison with Paul; now they were face to face again. This story may seem like a distant story of two people that were able to work out their differences. However, as I reflect I have to examine who it is in my own life that I might need to approach and ask for forgiveness, or maybe even harder, forgive. The real-life application for me in this is that last phrase, “charge that to my account.” That is exactly what Christ did for us on the cross. How then in our world of processing right and wrong can we not do the same for others? If Christ charges all of our wrongs to His account, does it not seem foolish to withhold forgiveness to others?

Paul concludes it well, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

May the prior statement be said about me! Examine this story and apply it to your own life, maybe you can see the power of forgiveness like never before.

Abner

Lesson Eight | Devotion #5: Abner
John Carter | Director of Finance & HR

Abner’s Civil War of the Heart

You may not have ever heard of the man named Abner. His name in current culture means very little if anything. If you have been in church for some time, you probably got a short introduction to who he is in the Bible. He is often overlooked because of the two dynamic kings of Israel that existed during his command, King Saul and King David. Abner is an interesting character; you can read a lot about his story in 2 Samuel.

To give you a brief overview of Abner here are a few facts:

  • He was Saul’s chosen Commander in Chief.
  • He was Saul’s cousin.
  • His name means “Father of Light” or “Enlightened.”
  • He was general for all of Saul’s rule and remained in that position for seven years after Saul’s death.
  • He fought against David and remained loyal to Saul.
  • He was murdered by David’s commander Joab.

If I were to describe his character, I would say that he was a loyal man. He was ambitious, had a strong sense of duty, and he was no doubt strong, dynamic, and able to lead. The description King David gave in 2 Samuel 3:38 described him as “a prince and a great man.” David wept bitterly at the death of Abner, so did all the people of Israel. You begin to see how Abner is a world changer.

Abner did not always find himself fighting on the right side of God so to speak, but he was no doubt a man that changed the world. Early in life, he was fighting with God’s anointed king (King Saul), but after Saul had continued to disobey God and lost his favor with God, Abner chose to remain loyal to a man rather than remain loyal to God. Even after Saul’s death, Abner chose to fight against the will of God. I think 2 Samuel 3:6 says it all when it comes to the decision Abner made,

“While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul.”

I tried to place myself in the shoes of Abner, having fought for and built a kingdom under Saul’s name, I can only imagine how hard it would be just to give it up. Taking into consideration the character of Abner, there was no doubt a sense of pride and ego built up in Abner’s heart over the years. He had helped make Israel a fierce nation. This pride can be seen in his response to Saul’s son in 2 Samuel 3:8,

“Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, ‘Am I a dog’s head of Judah? To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman.’”

So what is the practical application in studying about this man Abner? You might be saying, “so what?” “How does this matter to me?” As I put myself in Abner’s shoes, the question that keeps coming to my mind is, “Would I have done anything differently? Would I have been willing to give up the kingdom I had built and humbled myself to God’s will and way? Then I make it real personal, what kingdom am I holding on to right now? Is there something I know goes against the will of God? Is there something I do not want to give up because I spent so much of my time and energy building it up?”

Those are real heart questions to deal with and not always easy to identify. Can I encourage you to take some time and pray that God shows you these areas to which we so often cling? The story of Abner does not end with him always fighting against David to the bitter end. The cool part about the story of Abner is we get to see this reconciliation between David and Abner in 2 Samuel 3:21,

“And Abner said to David, ‘I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.’ So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.”

If peace is what you are after, find what it is in your life that fights against the will of God and learn to humble yourself. I am sure it was not easy for a mighty man like Abner, who had fought for so long, to say, “you may reign over all that your heart desires.”  That included David reigning over Abner. Let us figure out how we can say to God, “You can reign over all that your heart desires in my life.”

Achan

Lesson Five | Devotion #4: Achan
John Carter | Director of Finance & HR

Sin, it affects more than just you!

If you read the title, you might be prone to skip this read. Please do not, the story of Achan is one to hear and to heed because it is one that brings many warnings. It is a story of what not to do! The story of Achan is found in the book of Joshua chapter 7.  To give the context, Joshua has to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, and they face a mighty city, the city of Jericho. This is the first enemy they face in the land of Canaan.  In Joshua 6:17-18, God gives a command that everything in Jericho is devoted to the Lord for destruction.

“And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction… But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.” 

Achan heard these words; there is no doubt that the instructions given to the people would have been very clear. As the story unfolds, we see that Achan did not heed the instruction of God. He took a coat, some silver, and gold, and put it under his tent. The next battle the Israelites fight is a small city named Ai, but unfortunately, they were not victorious as this plays out in Joshua chapter 7.

“But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel… the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.”

The decision to take what belonged to God caused the death of 36 men, and it destroyed the morale of a nation that was moving forward to a long-awaited promise.  Can you imagine being the guy that caused the death of 36 other men because you were covetous? As you read through the chapter, Achan is soon discovered, and his sin is made known to the nation. In verses 24-26, Achan receives the punishment for disobedience to God.

“And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.’ And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.”

Wow, sin has a heavy consequence to bear. It hardly ever just affects one person. In this case, there were 36 innocent men who died because of the sin of Achan. Not only did Achan’s decision bring harm to the nation of Israel, but it also brought serious consequences to his family. They suffered greatly for his actions. Personally, I find it easy to deflect at this point. I might find myself thinking, “Well that stinks for his family,” or “I sure am glad I did not live in those times.” The cold hard truth is the application of this story holds true to me and our current era.

This is not a fun story to read, nor is it fun to apply to our own lives. I believe this story is recorded in the Bible so we can learn from one man’s mistakes, and hopefully, we will not repeat them. Sin has a wide reaching consequence, and it can destroy our family if we do not pay attention to the instruction of God.

“And if you too rebel against the LORD today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the LORD’s land where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the LORD our God. Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.”

The passage recorded in Joshua chapter 22 is a serious reminder that we need to check our heart for rebellion against God, we need to make sure we are not making other things in our life priority over God.  Take some time today and examine your life and heart, humble yourself to an almighty God. Make it right by crying out to Jesus and recognize that it is His act on the cross that allows us to be cleansed of our sins. If you think it will only hurt you, let this story be a helpful reminder that sin hurts others, most of the time the people you care about the most. I am sure if Achan would have realized that his sin would cause the death of his whole family he would have thought twice about it.

Job

Lesson Two | Devotion #5: Job
John Carter | Director of Finance & HR

The story of Job is one often shared and talked about in churches and Christian circles. If you are not familiar with Job, let me give you a brief “cliff notes” version of his story. Job was a wealthy man with a very happy family. He lived the “perfect happy life” that many of us chase after all these many years later. Job was called blameless and perfect. One day, Satan came to God and challenged God by saying the only reason Job loves You is because You protect him. Let me have my way with him and let us see if he still honors You? So, God being confident in Job, grants Satan to have his way. He gives Satan only one restraint, “just do not take his life.”

Then the struggles of Job began, and it is a horror story of pain and difficulty like no other. His wealth and his family are all lost in a short period of time. Job is left alone sitting in pain from physical illness. He is no doubt questioning his status with God and his faith. Then God comes and has a conversation with Job, and restores Job. Again, this is a very abbreviated description of Job’s story. There are so many different good studies that can come from Job’s story. I want to focus primarily on the conversation Job has with God in Job chapters 38-41.

When I read Job 38:1, I cannot help but be brought to tears when I think of where Job is when God comes to him and answers him in the whirlwind, aka the storm.

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind.”

If you have ever experienced any struggle, heartache, or difficulty in life, I would think this passage to be one of great joy! To me, this passage is very overwhelming. I am secure knowing that in the midst of our storm the Lord is present! He is not only present in the storm, but He proceeds to explain how mighty and awesome He (God) is to Job. He asks Job questions:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?
Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?”

I would encourage you to read the whole passage in Job chapter 38-42. The questions God asks may seem harsh, but I believe they are meant to encourage Job. They are meant to help make very clear who God is and of what He is capable.  You soon realize how big God is and how small we as humans are. Job’s response acknowledges this. “Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.’”

God then continues to ask Job some more questions, several in particular stick out, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Who then is he who can stand before me? Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”

Again, Job responds to Gods questions, in a way that is so profound, “Then Job answered the LORD and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”

Wow, what a powerful acknowledgment of who God is. God is present in the time of storms, God can do all things, God has a plan, and God is far more wonderful than we can even know. In this dialogue, we can see how great, mighty, and awesome God is. Let us take this story of a world changing man named Job and apply it to our lives.

Do you ever question God? Have you ever thought, “Why me Lord?” How about, “What are you doing God?” Have you ever been in a position where the burden felt so heavy? Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever wondered if there was anyone who cared? Have you ever hurt so bad that it made you question if God was real? If you claim Jesus as your Savior, is God so real to you that He is the first one you call out to in the storms of life? Maybe as you read this dialogue between God and Job, you will come to know the One who laid the foundation of the earth. The One who has commanded the morning since the beginning of time, the One who has knowledge of the gates of death, and the One who established the ordinances of the heavens. Maybe you have heard about Jesus your whole life, but you have not yet seen who He is, Job’s response is the Gospel message, “Now my eye sees You; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Life by no means is an easy thing, but when we have God, we can rest assured no matter how hard the storm, we have a God that will answer! Knowing God also means that we recognize how big He is and how small we are. He gets all the Glory!

Obey | Who?

Obey | Devotion #1: Who?
John Carter | Director of Finance & HR

Have you ever set expectations for someone? Do you have expectations for your employee, spouse, or child? Have you asked your kid to clean their room before they start playing a video game or computer game? You go outside to work in the yard, come back in, and you see them playing on the computer. You ask your kid, “Hey, did you get the room cleaned?” His response, “Yeah, of course, I did.” When you go up there, you can tell they have picked up some things, but it was not quite to your expectations.

One of the major causes of conflict is missed expectations. If you have never experienced such a thing, give it time because it will inevitably happen to you. It can even happen when you purchase products. You think you are getting one thing and then when you get it in your hand it not quite what you expected.

I am sure you can relate one way or another to this idea of missed expectations. The disciples experienced this “miss expectation” after the cross. Their whole expectation was that Jesus would redeem them from Roman rule. They were probably surprised that Jesus was arrested and even more so that He was crucified. It is interesting to read the Gospel accounts of when Jesus returns to the Eleven to reiterate His expectations to His closest friends.

Mark’s account is most interesting to me. The passage says, Jesus found the eleven disciples reclining at a table, He then rebuked them because they did not believe what others had said about Him rising from the dead. Jesus Himself said He would rise again on the third day (Matthew 16:21). Jesus set the expectation, but there were a few of the Eleven that missed it. Jesus sets the expectation of what He wants His disciples to do. If you have been in church for any amount of time, the “Great Commission” is something you have heard before.

Read the following passages:
Matthew 28:16-20
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

Mark 16:14-16
“Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” 

Luke 24:35-39; 46-49
“Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’”

“And said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’”

John 20:19-23
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The above passages all describe the same thing, Jesus had expectations for His disciples. He gives clear instructions for His disciples. It also helps us see the state of mind that some of the disciples felt.

It is so easy for us to ridicule the doubting disciples until we reflect it in our own lives. Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever been unsure of His leading? Have you ever been uncertain of His expectations? As I study these passages about the Great Commission, I cannot help but relate, just a little, to those doubting disciples. Doubt is like this, “Is God real?” or “Is Jesus real?” These were the first doubts I had to deal with in my own life. The answer is, Yes! He is real! Jesus has not stopped showing His realness to me ever since I asked Him to help me with my doubt. I love that Jesus shared the Gospel when dealing with the doubt (Luke 24:46-47 and Mark 16:16).

There is another level of doubt that goes like this, “Can I do what God wants me to do? Do I have the skills? What if I fail?” and “What if I cannot meet the expectations?” Maybe you read the passages as a good idea or a suggestion. You might see them as something the original eleven should do, or maybe someone else should do. Have you ever considered that it was Jesus’ expectation for us, as a church, to fulfill the Great Commission? How about us as individuals, do you think it applies to you? Maybe you think the same questions just previously listed in regards to the expectations set for us? There are a couple of words that would have encouraged the disciples in overcoming their doubt they may have experienced. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you…” These words spoken by Jesus would have been huge words of encouragement to the eleven disciples. These words also apply to as in this current day and age.

How do we view the expectations set by Jesus for His disciples? Is it personal? Do you think it applies to you? Let us consider that the One who asks us to do these things is the One who rose from the dead. He gave proof of that to those who doubted. He also promised that He would be with us and send the Holy Spirit to be with us through it all. I hope this encourages you not to miss the expectations set by Jesus, and that the fear and doubt that can so often creep into our hearts can be conquered in knowing that He is with us to the end of the age!



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