by Heather Novak – Director of Connections / Valpo FUMC
“This is a mystery too high for us, and we honor God more by believing without understanding than by trying to understand.” This is how A.W. Tozer explains it today. This is SO HARD! We all want to KNOW the things. We want to be understood. We want to UNDERSTAND. I believe even the deepest Christ follower struggles with doubt at times. I believe that this insecurity, this questioning makes our choice to BELIVE that much more meaningful. At least that is what I hope to be true.
Further along in todays’ devotion Tozer says “…the kindly law of the Father’s heart that requires and expects of his children lives lived in conformity to the commandments of Christ.” Our Father REQUIRES and EXPECTS us to follow Christ. That sits heavy with me as I know I do not do a solid job on this. I struggle and wander around in order to please myself…wandering back to God here and there.
What would it look like if I lived all out just to please God?
by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor / Valpo FUMC
At an early age, I learned how to swim because I spent half of the year living near the water. So at the age of seven, I was competing on the summer swim teams. I would watch older swimmers break records in the pool and they then quickly became my idols.
One summer, I remember clearly the story of Joni Eareckson Tada and her misjudgment of the depth of the water when she excitedly jumped into the Chesapeake Bay. Her story taught me so much about perseverance of faith. Joni Eareckson Tada jumped into the Chesapeake Bay and having misjudged the depth of the water Tada emerged forever changed. She would from this point forward be a quadriplegic, living her entire life in a wheelchair. Tada has written extensively of her experiences. I read many of her writings and biographies. She has been an inspiration to many but as a teenager she was truly my spiritual teacher. She is a picture of our text in James 1:1-4. She models joy in the midst of suffering. Furthermore, she shows that God often has a good purpose in our suffering.
On one occasion Joni discussed having her wheelchair in heaven. She said:
I hope I can take my wheelchair to heaven with me, I know that’s not biblically correct, but if I were able, I would have my wheelchair up in heaven right next to me when God gives me my brand new, glorified body. And I will then turn to Jesus and say, “Lord, do you see that wheelchair right there? Well, you were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, because that wheelchair was a lot of trouble! But Jesus, the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. So thank you for what you did in my life through that wheelchair.” And now, I always say jokingly, “you can send that wheelchair to hell, if you want.”
So where does that type of joy come from? Ultimately, we know the answer to that question is that such joy can only come from God and sometimes through our suffering.
I used to think most of the Christian walk was about “toughing it out”—enduring suffering, living with disappointment and struggling through hardship. But I have realized something very precious, especially in the last year, as God has been teaching me and training me. Suffering has purpose. Understanding this changes how we feel about undergoing it. Having joy because of trials in this way bears so much fruit. It actually leads us to a place where we are truly mature in Christ and lack nothing. Joy fills in the gaps.
In 2 Corinthians 8:2, Paul writes, “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Joy doesn’t change circumstances, but it does change our attitude toward what we face.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is part of the Holy Spirit’s character. He loves to bring “the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).
What about you? Are you a carrier of joy or misery? How would people describe you? Would they say you lighten the atmosphere around you, or do you add to the heaviness? Being joyful is not the same as being happy. Happiness depends on outward things, but joy wells up from within.
All of us can feel relief and contentment when we have come through a hard time. We can rejoice and praise God for how He has brought us out of it. But the challenge is, how joyful are we in the midst of it?
by Pamela Gonzalez – Director of Communications / Valpo FUMC
It’s probably just me, but I obviously don’t travel in the same circles that A.W. Tozer did, because I have never heard of this concept that one could believe that Jesus is Savior but not Lord.
I’ve never had any issues with the fact that Jesus is Lord and Savior. In fact, I’m sure I’ve sung worship songs to that effect, and certainly the Scriptures proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Not to overthink such things, it did occur to me when I was reading today’s devotion, that as an American, I don’t really have a grasp on all these noble titles. Not proficient in Hebrew or Aramaic, I wonder what word is used for “Lord” and what the meaning of it is. When King James had the Hebrew/Aramaic texts translated into English, the British people would have understood clearly the translated word of “Lord”. Frankly, I’m not sure what a Lord is, although I hear the word a lot on British-produced Television.
A quick search from Merriam-Webster define “Lord” as: One having power and authority over others:
a ruler by hereditary right or preeminence to whom service and obedience are due
One of whom a fee or estate is held in feudal tenure
An owner of land or other real property
The male head of a household (deemed as obsolete)
One that has achieved mastery or that exercises leadership or great power in some area (as in drug lord)
Right. I have never had a problem calling Jesus Lord, and based on what I read from the dictionary, I’m prepared to continue doing so.
It sounds like Tozer was an intelligent man, and he probably hung around with like-minded fellows. Me, I’m just an ordinary middle-aged woman. Perhaps being too intelligent has its drawbacks…it causes one to think too much.
by Dan Davis – Director of Maintenance / Valpo FUMC
When I finished today’s reading, I immediately noticed that there was a significant scripture noted, yet not given in the text. And even though Psalm 27:4 speaks to the ‘Gaze of the Soul’ while we are here, I find it more appropriate to mention that John 17:3, the significant scripture mentioned yet not given, speaks directly to the ‘eternal life’ of our soul.
Eternal life is by far the greatest treasure ever offered to any person on this spinning blue marble we call Earth. Jesus makes it clear that Father God’s intent is that we come to ‘know’ Him personally. The Apostle John uses the word, ‘know’ more than any other gospel writer. Obviously Jesus used the word much since it appears 71 times in the Olivet Discourse alone. This of course refers to Christ’s teachings at the Mount of Olives. The Greek word ”ginosko’ appears 223 times in the New Testament, and is translated with three English words ‘know, perceive and understand.’
Understanding that, why so much focus on ‘knowing’? Well, in the first century when John wrote his Gospel, that Greek word ‘ginosko’ was a ‘hot’ word loaded with meaning. Biblical historians tell us that John lived to be almost 100 years old. Therefore, he had the opportunity to watch this newly founded Church of Jesus, and make its first steps of growth. But that also means he lived to see counterfeits, and early cults arise too. Anti-Christian cults like the Gnostics (Greek also meaning ‘know’) flourished and those writings are creeping again into our own culture, by way of popular books and films. This Gnostic cult movement fooled many from the late first century to the fourth century. To its followers, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm in that only those who had this special knowledge could have interaction with God. Of course we know this to be untrue. However, John records the words of Jesus’ high prayer to come against that idea of ‘special knowledge.’ Jesus said, ‘that they may know You, the only true God.’
With that given, what would you say eternal life means? Is it nothing but eternal existence going on and on infinitely? Is it floating on cloud nine strumming a harp? Is that eternal life? No, the definition is this reading’s ungiven text of John 17:3, “and this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’ It’s that simple. So, eternal life is not as much about quantity of life, but is primarily about quality of life. Eternal life can be defined in two words, ‘knowing God.’ Eternal life is an eternal relationship with God, and this eternal relationship with God is ours simply on the basis of our faith in Jesus. The joy of the next stage of eternal life, when we see Jesus face to face, is not just that all of our Earthly problems are behind us, but knowing God is the thing that lasts. It’s the single most important thing that we will be doing….. forever.
by Karyn Custer-Jankowski – Director of Children’s Ministries/Valpo FUMC
Our devotion today speaks to contentment being our enemy OR complacency, especially in spiritual and holy matters!
As humans, we can never be DONE growing and maturing because we are organic beings with an ever present ability to learn, grow, mature, and change. The same can be said for being a Christian and having a personal relationship with God. One can never be fully THERE – DONE – FINISHED – in growing this relationship. How foolish one would be to think this was the case!
I was recently watching a show on T.V. and a man was saying to a long suffering woman, “I hope that you find happiness soon and that your suffering comes to an end.” The woman, who is very religious, said that if she had to choose between suffering or not, she would choose suffering because it is then that she spends more time in prayer and meditation with God, and she is comforted by Him.
I’m sure we’ve heard this many times in our lives, how when we suffer we look more intently to God our Father versus when times are good. We may pray daily and thank God for all of our blessings but it is in times of need where we dive into our faith and relate to Him on a deeper, more intent level.
In life it is good to be content with that which we already have, to not always be wanting more and more… but in our spiritual lives, we should never be content – we should want more and more as it relates to our relationship with our God.
Dogma and Doctrine are important and hold a purpose in faith and in the church but they need to be combined with Holy Spirit as they are interpreted in today’s world. My husband was raised Roman Catholic and always referred to his religious upbringing as being indoctrinated with faith rules. My confirmation class back in the day was also a series of memorization of the books of the bible, of the apostle’s creed and different prayers. It seemed that it was assumed that if we memorized them that their meaning would become part of our spiritual lives. IT wasn’t until my senior high camping experience that I felt the Holy Spirit move in my life changing my attitude more towards aligning my life with what I was hearing in the scriptures. It was this conversion experience that allowed me to understand the need to open my heart and mind to the blowing of the Holy Spirit. It was this intention personal push to understand the scriptures and to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit that led me kicking and screaming with some self-doubt into ordained ministry. Even then, I realize that I am and always will be learning from God through the Holy Spirit.
My paternal grandmother was instrumental in helping me read different scriptures and helping me to apply it to daily life. She encouraged me to question what the Bible verses were saying to me as a teenager and later as a young mother. She always had me make notes in the margins with the dates so that as I grew in life and in faith, I could see how God continued to speak anew to me as my lens changed.
After years of Bible study both in seminary and in the church, I have come to appreciate Wesley’s quadrilateral of scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. IT is a lens used to inform our beliefs and the way we adapt to an ever-changing world while remaining faithful to the gospel values that are authentic. If we use this tool to inform our conversations, then we are less apt to be using scripture literally thus running the risk of using it for our own means. As disciples, we need to read scripture and apply reason and life experience to it and allow the Holy Spirit to open us up to understanding anew.
God came to this earth as Jesus Christ and showed up over and over again that we might know the Truth about God’s love for each of us. When we truly understand that in our heart’ mind and soul we will have been blessed by the Spirit.
by Pamela Gonzalez – Director of Communications/Valpo FUMC
Great! Why did I get this topic? I said to myself when reading today’s devotional. The topic of grace only versus grace plus works is a hotly contested theological topic.
I must disclose that my personal beliefs might differ from yours in spite of the fact that my beliefs have changed over the years. I was raised Catholic where works is an absolute part of salvation. As an adult, I left the Catholic church, and having read the scriptures many times, have changed my opinion to faith only. Some have challenged me by quoting James.
What good is it my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14)
James goes on to say that believing in one God isn’t the point, for even the demons believe that! Read James 2:14–26. He ends his explanation by saying, As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26)
This sounds suspiciously as if James were saying that works, or deeds, is a stipulation for salvation. I don’t believe this is what he is saying here at all. Just as I don’t believe this is what Tozer is saying in today’s reading.
Remember, the thief on the cross asked for forgiveness and Jesus, also on a cross, gave him forgiveness and told the thief that he would be in paradise that very day. There was no opportunity for the man forever known by his terrible deeds to make it right and to do good. His life was nearly finished. Yet he was forgiven. Works did not save him. Jesus saw his heart and knew his repentance and faith were real.
What I believe James and Tozer are saying is that if your faith is true faith, the evidence of the Holy Spirit within will not be quenched. One result of the power of the Holy Spirit is good works. If someone claims to have saving faith and yet their old ways are not changed, I would have to question whether their claim of faith is real to begin with. Remember, Jesus said, even so every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:17) In other words the kind of fruit or deeds or works a person bears is evidence of their faith, or lack thereof.
Does this mean we will never do bad? No. There are times when we fail and do things that grieves God. But the question is, do we wish to remain in our sin or repent and change our ways? True faith results in true repentance which results in regeneration and reformation and is evidenced in a changed life. For me, works are a result of faith, not a condition for receiving it.