Devotions

Author Archives: Ryan Story

Eyes Up

Broken Tablets | Devotion 1: Eyes Up
Pastor Ryan Story

Recently, I had another “life of a dad moment.” I cleaned my children’s playroom the other day. After I completed the monumental task of sorting out and organizing an unprecedented amount of Avengers action figures, PJ Masks buildings, Paw Patrol vehicles, Legos, and random toy weapons, the room was looking good, and I decided to make lunch for my sons. Within the amount of time it took me to make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my sons tore their playroom apart again.

I learned a valuable life lesson that day; if you do not have your eyes up, ruin can destroy what you have taken your time building. In a Christian sense, sin can, and will, enter your life if you are not paying attention, and it can destroy your life. I have always cataloged sin into two major issues, pride and idolatry. I believe every sin has its roots in these two major issues. Putting self first, desire, envy, and a list of sins too long to count, find their source in pride. Concerning idolatry, I lump any sin that has me taking God away from being God. Any time we worship an object, activity, person, or passion above God is idolatry.

Moses ran into the sin of idolatry in a major way in Exodus chapter 32. Preceding this chapter, Moses was on the mountain talking to God about how to rule over the nation of Israel. God instructed Moses with the Law, and Moses carved the Law out on the stone. While Moses was putting forth the work, God told Moses that there was a major issue brewing at the foot of Mount Sinai. Exodus 32:8 says, “They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” Whenever I picture Moses at this moment, I can not help but see Charlton Heston (being Moses) being angry at a planet filled with ape overlords.

The severity of idolatry is terrifying. There is no major indication what prompted Aaron to decide to lead the idol worship. Aaron was always pretty upright in his walk with God. Moses even trusted Aaron. Yet, idolatry still snuck into his camp. As people who are attempting to walk as close to God as possible, we must take heed of this story. Even the first priest can fall victim to putting objects above God. Why would we think we would be any different?

Idolatry can sneak into your camp. There is nothing wrong with a job, but your job can become the object of worship more than your creator. Sports are fun, but they can consume a family quickly. I love my family, but I can start putting my wife or children’s happiness before that of my Jesus. Idolatry sneaks in faster than it took my boys to destroy a freshly cleaned room. Keep your eyes open to what is in you and your family’s life. Are you devoting more energy and effort into a job, person, hobby, or passion than you are for loving Jesus? This is serious; do not overlook the slightest discrepancy. Once that idol enters the camp, it will destroy everything you have built, or even scarier, God may be the one with the sledgehammer. God does not take kindly to other things being worshiped more than Him. Keep your eyes up on Jesus, and make sure your focus and adoration is fully and properly devoted to the one who deserves it.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Six weeks

Water, Manna, & Quail | Devotion 3: Six weeks
Pastor Ryan Story

At this point in society, I am shocked that you cannot get a Ph.D. in complaining. If you spend any time on social media, all you see is people complaining about schools, police departments, roads, neighbors, and even weather. If you stand in line at a grocery store for more than five minutes, you can hear someone complaining from a distance. If the internet goes down, people are complaining. If schools call for a snow day, people are complaining. However, if schools remain open during snowy conditions, people are complaining. If someone’s church is too small, people are complaining. On the flip side, if churches are growing too fast, people are complaining. Ironically while I type this, I realized I am complaining about complainers!

The nation of Israel had a major issue; they complained about everything. The Israelites endured slavery for more than 400 years, and the moment they were free from Pharaoh is the moment God, Moses, and Aaron began to hear grumbling. Exodus 16:1-3 says, “They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” I am not perfect, and I complain and grumble about certain issues as well; however, I did some research to see how long it took the Israelites to turn against Moses and Aaron. By most scholars’ account, it took the Israelite six weeks to start grumbling! We are one chapter removed from the Israelites singing a song about how God used Moses to free them from Egypt. The Israelites are one chapter removed from hanging out in an oasis paradise with enough water, springs, and palm trees to comfortably encamp the entire nation. It took them six weeks to go from praising to grumbling! It took just six weeks!

Complaining is toxic to our relationships with our children, our friends, our spouses, our church, and even the poor teenage barista that got yelled at today because there was too little cream in their frappe. Above all of that, complaining is horribly damaging to our relationship with God. While God still blessed the nation of Israel and provided for them, it does not take away from the lack of trust the Israelites had in God and in the leadership that God placed over them.

So what do you complain about? Do you think that the mild inconvenience that you are complaining about is outside of God’s control and outside of God’s plan for your life? Yes, that traffic jam was an inconvenience, but maybe it was God giving you 30 minutes to listen to a sermon. That boss of yours might be a difficult person to work with, but I bet dollars to doughnuts you do not complain when you get that paycheck. The music may be too loud for your taste at a weekend gathering, but it helped to get a young 20-year-old connected with the church because of his love for music.

We complain because we do not always see the whole picture. Exodus 16:4 has an amazing phrase that has brought me comfort in the times I want to start complaining. It reads, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to..’” While it is important to know that God sent manna down from the sky, the really important thing is that God was doing something. The Israelites could only see from their perspective; they were so focused on the last six weeks they could not see that God was about to do something again. The Israelites were sure that parting the Red Sea was the only miracle; they could not see what God was about to do. So next time you begin to complain, think to yourself; what is God about to do with this?

Final warning

Passover | Devotion 1: Final warning
Pastor Ryan Story

Early in my Christian walk, there was one section of Scripture that tripped me up every time I would read and study. The section that always caused me mass theological confusion was the relationship between Pharaoh and God. I never understood how Pharaoh could be so stubborn not to see what God was doing to his country and his people. God had already sent nine plagues, each worse than the last and each time through Moses, God commanded Pharaoh to let His “people go.” I guess when you are born into royalty and prestige, it becomes hard to humble yourself, especially when people call you a god-king.

However, the second part of that relationship that baffles me is God’s response to Pharaoh. Repeatedly through Scripture, it says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The final time this is said is in a fiery dispute between former stepbrothers in Exodus 11:9-10, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.” This baffles me because the God I love and serve has given me so many chances, it was hard to compute the idea of God making a person’s heart and then hardening it so that they were unresponsive to God’s love and grace.

Upon many years of reading and many conversations, God taught me the most amazing truth. Many people use the story of Pharaoh as a story to make our God out to be a cold-hearted overlord when that is the furthest point from the truth. The reason why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart is simple; Pharaoh’s eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and everything else stopped seeing God as Lord. So, because of Pharaoh’s pride, his heart turned to stone as well. Think of the distraction Pharaoh must have seen because of the hail and the locust. Imagine the smell of all the dead livestock and the water turning to blood. I could not even imagine the taste of food after frogs, gnats, and flies were everywhere. Watching as swarms of locusts ruined years of stockpiling would go beyond the point of frustration. The sight of boils on your people must have been heart-wrenching. The truth is while God did turn Pharaoh’s heart to stone, God gave Pharaoh nine opportunities before God pulled out the big plague.

Take some time to read Exodus chapter 11 this week. I do not think Moses leaves in anger because he was hot at Pharaoh; I feel Moses leaves because he knows that God’s plagues were getting worse and Moses did not want to see Pharaoh continue on his self-harming ego trip. When people ask me, “How could God harden Pharaoh’s heart?” I am always quick to ask, “Why did God have to send eight plagues in order to get Pharaoh’s attention?” I cannot imagine a worse fate than what awaits Pharaoh in Exodus chapter 12.

The truth is that God is King. God is the Father. Before I had children, I refused to say the phrase, “Because I said so.” Well, I seem to say that many times when my son’s pride swells up. Pharaoh refused to listen, refused to learn, and God’s “because I said so” did not work. I urge you, do not let pride sneak into your life. Learn from Pharaoh and keep your heart moldable and teachable to the things God is doing.

You Have to go Back

Ten Plagues | Devotion 4: You Have to go Back
Pastor Ryan Story

I love student camp. Since 2010, as a Youth Pastor, I have had the amazing opportunity to accomplish our student ministries at New Life Camp and watch God use the camp in amazing ways. I have watched Jesus change peoples’ lives right before my eyes. I will always have a sweet spot for working with teens, mostly because I see the amazing potential that God has given them. If you are a high school or middle school student, you are amazing! One thing I started saying to students after a few years of witnessing camp is, “You are going home Friday.” I never meant this as a negative; I meant it as the reality that at the end of the week, their lives would go back to normal. If you have been part of a camp, mission trip, or anything where the “ugly cry worship face” comes out and you get that “I know the Holy Spirit is talking to me right now,” you might understand why I remind these students of going back home. It is very easy to get close to God in an environment such as camp. The camp is secluded, there are minimal distractions, and everything we do for the week is to help push the focus back to God. Sadly, when most of the students go home, there is not the same “Church Bubble” around them.

Moses went through a similar situation in his life. If you recall Moses was born a Hebrew and was adopted into Egyptian royalty. At some point in his life, he realized that he was a Hebrew, who were the majority population and all slaves. One day, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and Moses snapped and murdered the slave master. Moses thought it was all done in secret, but the next day, someone referred to his action. Moses ran for his life in fear he would suffer the same fate as his victim. Moses eventually started a family in the desert. Fast forward a bit more, and Moses found the burning bush when God began to give orders to Moses directly. Exodus 4:19-20 says, “And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’ So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.” Basically, God told Moses, “you are going home” now.

I have always been curious about what Moses was experiencing. God had to guide Moses through every step and ensure him that all things would work out right. Moses made excuse after excuse to seemingly get out of being used by God to free God’s and Moses’ people. I believe that is why Moses had to be told that every person who knew Moses murdered a man and the king was gone. Without this information, I feel Moses would have dragged his feet all the way back to Egypt fearing what fate awaited him.

It is hard to go back to a place, especially when that place knows all of our faults and failures. Sometimes returning is harder than going to a new place. There are many times in life where God is going to send you somewhere new, and you will have to navigate the best you can through God’s plan for your life. For many of us, though, God is not trying to send us to somewhere new, but back to a place where we once were. I am not a fan of living in the past, and I believe that God can and will change any circumstance if it is His will. I can confidently say, it is hard to go back “home” in order to be used by God. In the same way, I have seen teens terrified to return home because they know it will be hard to look at friends, family members, and even themselves and show that they are now living for God. Moses went back home knowing who was backing him. If you are in the same spot as Moses where you know there is a place in which you should return, go with knowing who is behind you. Go knowing God can change anything. Go knowing we were never meant to stay in an unnatural safe bubble. Embrace the difficulty, because that is when God can do amazing things with you and those around you.

All In 

Excuses | Devotion 4: All In
Pastor Ryan Story

I graduated high school the year a revolution was beginning. The summer of 2003, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker’s main event. What is so revolutionary about this is that Chris won his spot in the $10,000 buy-in tournament by winning an online poker contest. This sparked a phenomenon where any “average Joe” dreamed of winning it all, and I was included. A group of my buddies started getting together every Friday, and we all got “really good” at Texas Hold’em. We would play for hours each week, and once a month we would go to larger tournaments in hopes to make some extra money. In poker, there is a “move” that a person can do that is the ultimate gamble, the “all in.” Going “all in” means you risk all of your chips, assuming you have fewer chips than the other opponents. This move can be extremely risky to use flippantly because it can cause you to go broke or give your opponent a lot more chips. So when you say you are going to go “all in,” you better be ready to go “all in” with the potential consequences.

In Exodus chapter nine, Pharaoh finally is seemingly willing to go “all in” and give Moses the freedom for the Israelites. Each one of the plagues that God sent finally caused Pharaoh to say, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer” (Exodus

At that moment Pharaoh’s “all in” did not work. The king of Egypt thought he could go “all in” with some fake repentance and lip service to God and Moses, but he got caught. The hardest part about an “all in” move in poker is that there is no backup plan. You either win big or lose big. Pharaoh was trying to win big by getting Moses to stop the hail, but Pharaoh was not truly crying out for repentance. He knew that he could still have wheat for food after the storm stopped. Sadly, this is our spiritual lives. We call out to God in extreme hardships, knowing full well we have a backup plan. We have something to which we can fall back. I ask you when you pray and cry out to God for help or rescue, are you going “all in” by only relying on Him, or are you counting on something other than God to help?

As Christ followers, we should be able to go “all in” with our trust in any struggle, situation, or storm that comes. There is never a moment where God is not in control. Even the moment we think “we lost,” God is already working that out to better shape us for our future. Sadly, we struggle to have the kind of “all in” faith that we should to live with God. Imagine what God could do with a church that was not holding onto the wheat of our lives and trusted God in every area? How amazing would it be to be part of a church that gave with absolute trust that God was going to use it to rescue local families? Imagine if we served with the unwavering trust that by our efforts of going “all in” with the passion we would get to see people loved and cared for and eventually give their lives to Jesus. As Christians, we should have only the plan that God has for us, and when we trust that His plan is perfect, that is when we can confidently slide our chips across the table and declare, “I am all in.”



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