Author Archives: Pastor Ryan Story

Capernaum • Devotion #5: Prioritize and Execute

Over the last few years, I have begun to add leadership books to my reading list. One of my favorite statements used in one of those books is “prioritize and execute.” This idea comes from a Navy SEAL concept that, in the heat of conflict, a leader must be able to assess the situation properly, make the call, and move forward to complete a mission. This idea is something that I feel many Christ-followers should put in their walks with God. The reality is most every follower of Christ is going to say that they want to be in God’s will for their life. Most every Christian is well-meaning enough that they know sin is not acceptable, and serving Jesus with all they have is essential to growing in their walks with God and being used to further the Kingdom of God. However, we struggle with two simple concepts, prioritizing and executing.

Psalm 40:7-8 reads, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’” David is able to say these words only because God is guiding his heart to where we should all be. Every Christ-follower should be at a place where they are delighted to do the will of God. While a study on the will of God is vast, I believe the best way to narrow down what applicably the will of God looks like is believing what the Bible says and living out what the Bible tells us to do. Too often, we get in arguments about what is most important in the Bible. Should we grow or serve? Should we focus on young people or older people? Should we focus on purity or prayer? Should we evangelize to many, or should we disciple a few? The reality is, if we believe what the Bible tells us, we should do it all. 

The example that Jesus leaves us is infinitely vast in the ways we should apply it to our lives. Jesus was the perfect example of what taking delight in doing God’s will entails. Even in a state of blood-soaked sweat, Jesus was still focused on being obedient to the Father’s will. Matthew 26:38-39 reads, “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus is the fulfillment of David’s words that even in the worst situation, He was able to be obedient and delight in what God instructed Him to do. Jesus was showing His humanity, both physically and emotionally, in a state of fear. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus was looking to the cross with “joy that was set before him.” 

In moments of peril, in moments where Jesus only had the trust in His Father to hang on to, in moments where Jesus Himself asked if there was another solution, Jesus did not waiver in what had to be done. “Your will be done” is one of the statements that every follower of Christ should declare during every situation. Jesus was perfectly obedient, despite not being thrilled about the plan. Jesus understood the next step that was necessary to defeat the sin that plagued humanity. Jesus’ priority was to stay obedient to the Father, die on a cross for humanity’s sin, and to reconcile our relationship to God. There was a mission to complete, and Jesus took delight in what was before Him. He knew the pain, He knew what was to come, and He knew the Father would have to look away from Him when He bore the sins of all of humanity. Yet, He executed God’s plan perfectly.

Capernaum • Devotion #3: I will Take the Tab

I love food. I feel after just three words, I got a resounding praiseworthy “amen.” However, I still have a 497-word quota to meet. I love Thai food. The thing I love about Thai food is it hits all five major tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and hot) all in one bite. A few years ago, my wife and I were on a date (totally off-topic, but dudes go on dates with your wife!), and we were at our favorite Thai spot in Grand Blanc, enjoying each other’s company. We saw a friend of ours who attends The River Church. We waved, smiled, and told each other that we would “see each other Sunday.” He left, and my wife and I continued our night. When it was time to get our bill, our waitress just told us, “that man told us he would take your tab.” I was beyond blessed at his generosity, and I gave him a big hug the next time I saw him.    

Humanity has a major issue. We have this thing called sin. Because of sin, we all are owed God’s wrath to be poured out on us. An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy, and perfectly just creator of the universe does not take kindly to His creation’s rebellion. Thankfully, this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy, and perfectly just creator of the universe loves us more than we can comprehend. The only means of totally fulfilling the price of this rebellion is that God Himself had to take this punishment. Isaiah 53:12 says, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” God sent His Son to be the one who would bear the weight and shame of our sin.

Luke 23:34 records the moment when Jesus paid the price for mankind’s sin. It reads, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.” Even in the last moments of Jesus’ life, the people leading in His crucifixion were gambling off His clothes. At this pivotal moment for all of humanity, while sin and darkness seemed to be victorious, God’s perfect Son sacrificed Himself and interceded for our sins. Intercession means to intervene on behalf of someone else. Jesus intervened for all of humanity. Jesus bore the punishment for every sin ever committed by every person who ever walked on this Earth. That is the ultimate, “I will pick up their tab.”  

Love is purposeful. You cannot love accidentally. Love is a choice. You cannot force love. Jesus loves you, regardless if you reject that notion or not. He proved how much He loved humanity when He bore our sins on that cross. It is such a mind-boggling feeling to know that Jesus chose to pick up my tab. I have done so many horrible things in my life. 

Luckily for me, the guy who paid for my Thai food was a friend. I can grasp that concept of him loving me enough to bless me. However, Jesus took my tab when I was an enemy of God, lived a rebellious life of sin, and my only focus was on myself. Prophecy can be a hard thing to understand, but amazingly God picking up our tab was His plan from the very beginning. Take some time to thank God for paying the debt you could not pay, and be gracious to the truth that His love was purposeful. Jesus paid your tab to bring you back to Him. Let us never forget that.

Capernaum • Devotion #1: Son-light

Many of us have heard the Isaiah chapter 9 verses about the birth of Jesus because we have grown up in the church, or we heard it because of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Most likely, everyone has heard the Bible verse that tells us that “unto us this day, a child was born.” However, most of us have never looked at that whole prophecy. The second verse in chapter 9 of Isaiah reads, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” While all the prophecies involving Jesus are important, this one is the top tier for sure.

Jesus came to Earth on a mission. While the main goal of that mission was to restore the relationship between the perfect God and His fallen creation, there were a few more “perks” mankind got because of Jesus. Isaiah tells us that the coming Messiah would bring light to those who walk in darkness. Just so we can all be on the same page, that is all of humanity. Every person, other than Jesus, who has ever lived on this planet, is infected by sin. Sin causes us to be strangers to God. Sin causes us to walk around in pitch darkness. One thing about darkness is we sometimes forget how dark darkness is because we enjoy the light so much.

 John chapter 1 also has a familiarity to it. John 1:1-5 fulfills this prophecy, saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This prophecy is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus when the true light of the world is born. I love the idea that the life that Jesus brings, brings light for men, and that because of Jesus, the light He brings is so strong that darkness will never overcome it. 

God knew mankind was stumbling around in the darkness. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, mankind had an issue; they never had light. I am talking more about a spiritual light in this sense, not the sunlight. Sunlight comes and goes, it can get blocked by objects, and it has a time limit on how long it is around. The beautiful thing about Jesus is He does not bring sunlight into a person’s world; He brings “Son light.” The light that Jesus brings to a person is strong enough to bring life, to bring guidance, and this light is never blocked or overcome. We live in a world that has darkness in it. My hope is that the light you cling to is the light that Isaiah talks about. My prayer for you is that you have accepted the Son of God into your life as Lord. My challenge for you is that if you are in the midst of darkness, you will find where the true light of the world is.

Nazareth • Devotion #6: Stumbling Block

One of the hardest prophecies for me to wrap my mind around is one found in Isaiah chapter eight. I saved this one for last because it has taken me this long to be able to write a thought that proves the point, in about 500 words, that is applicable, and still not boring. Isaiah 8:14-15 reads, “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

In the first half of the Book of Romans, Paul has to straighten out Gentiles who became Christians and Jewish people who professed to be Christians to what it truly meant to follow Jesus. Former Gentile Christians would look down on former Jewish Christians for their practices. Romans chapter nine explains the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah by stating that salvation is only found by having faith in Jesus. Romans 9:30-33 reads, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” If you ever read the book of Romans, you should always have a commentary with you because it can be difficult to break down. Paul is teaching that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a stumbling stone for Jews because they did not pursue living for God by faith, rather the Jews began to base their living for God solely on their works. 

The part that gets me is that God knew He was going to be a stumbling block for people, not just any people but His chosen people. God “so loved the world,” the Jewish people were His chosen people up until Jesus came and died on that cross, and the veil of the Holy of Holies was torn. The part that had me scratching my head for a few weeks was why God would allow Himself to be a stumbling block. In 1 Corinthians 8:9, we are told, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” So God’s Word tells us not to be a stumbling block, and yet, Jesus Himself was a stumbling block. Welcome to the brain; it is like a herd of cats running around sometimes. 

If you have questions for God, take them to Him. In a moment of pausing, reflecting, and studying, God showed me the answer. It is not that God was trying to be a stumbling block, in fact, just the opposite. There are some things that have happened since God said, “let there be” that God did not intend to happen. They were not part of His perfect will. The biggest would be sin entering the world. Since sin entered the world, it causes God’s creation to rebel. This state of rebellion is engrained in every heart of every man, woman, and child. Because we have rebellion in our hearts, eventually, we are going to want to do it our own way. That is what happened to the Jews. They were given the law, and they turned it into something it was not meant to be. Also, preceding the law would have been the father of the Jewish nation, Abraham. Abraham was told to follow God, and Abraham displayed the model of faith before works. That is what God desires to see. Ultimately, God made it so everyone could have faith in what Jesus did for us by dying on a cross and resurrecting three days later as the essential components to salvation. God did not make Himself the stumbling block; He never changed His methods. Jews changed their obedience to God. Truth should never be a stumbling block, and Jesus told the Jews the truth.

Nazareth • Devotion #4: Most Popular Donkey Ever

I am a detailed-oriented person. Small details are oftentimes overlooked. Through the entire Gospels, Jesus is doing amazing things. He was being obedient to God’s will and fulfilling prophecies throughout the time of His earthly ministry. I feel I have missed one amazing detail every time I have read about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I think I have always focused on the crowds of people, the praising, and the plotting Pharisees that I overlooked the humblest of God’s creation. 

Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This whole verse depicts Jesus entering into Jerusalem. We see a call to rejoicing. God’s Word tells us that our king has come for us, and then we see what He is riding. Last time I checked, kings ride in on something luxurious. I have never seen the Queen of England rolling around in an ’89 Ford Taurus. No disrespect to Ford Taurus fans, that was my first car. That Taurus was for sure the car equivalent of a donkey. 

I have enjoyed the study that has gone into each devotion this month. Once again, we see that God says something is going to happen, and Jesus fulfills God’s Word. The Gospel of Mark records how Jesus uses a donkey to prove, in fact, Jesus was the Christ. Mark 11:2-6 reads, “And said to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’’ And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.” 

There are so many amazing things about this prophecy. The first is that Jesus knew exactly where this donkey would be. For all the farmer types out there, you know that even if you tie up an animal, there is still a chance that it gets loose. Amazingly, Jesus tells the disciples that there was a donkey, tied up, and waiting for them. The second thing about this donkey that is an amazing work from God is that the owners of this donkey let it be used for the glory of God. Most people in Jesus’ time were not overly wealthy and did not have many beasts of burden. The fact that the owners did not put up much fuss when a few strangers came to borrow this donkey is noteworthy. I do not know how well you do with loaning your stuff out to other people, but the fact that the owners of this donkey are totally good with the honor system because the disciples name-dropped Jesus is amazing!

Prophecy shows God’s sovereign hand over creation. God is in control of massive stars and in control of microscopic atoms. Nothing is outside of God’s control, even the smallest of details. As silly as it may be, if Jesus did not come into town riding on a donkey, that would erode the truth about who He was. The fact that Jesus fulfills every prophecy about Him proves without a blemish that He is who He says He is, and He will do exactly what He says He will do. God is in the details of everything, and that includes your life. If He can say that a donkey is going to be in a town, and its owners are good to let Him borrow it, I would argue we could trust Him with our small details as well.  

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