by Heather Novak – Director of Connections / Valpo FUMC
The awkward phrase “sex lust” mentioned in the opener as modern day hijacking of the definition of “passion” distracted me from much of this days devotion. It was such a graphic and awkward wording of what I wondered after all along: Why is Christ’s death called “The Passion”? The somber truth of it seems to be the opposite: passionless. Death. Sorrow. Absence.
I remain, as many people remain, deeply spiritually uncomfortable with the necessity of atonement. I feel conflicted that I need a savior. I feel faintly skeptical that a man hung on a cross more than two thousand years ago because I needed a moral reckoning to connect to God.
The first time I struggled with Christianity, with the weight of this truth I chose to believe in faith, God brought me to my bible. As I fumbled through the book of John, chapter 20, I was amazed that this man Thomas who walked with Jesus on a daily basis wouldn’t believe the other disciples when they said Jesus was alive. In John chapter 20:26 Thomas says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” At this time of crisis in my faith I felt clearly God was showing me that he could handle my struggle and he was not surprised if I had doubts. My faith was renewed.
by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor / Valpo FUMC
The super bowl just ended and I have to admit that I am thrilled with the results. The Philadelphia Eagles are a wonderful example of being identified with Christ. The coach of the Eagles has systematically throughout the year, brought his faith to the locker room and asked the players to follow his example. Doug Pederson rose from a high school football coach to coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. Before every game, the team prayed together and several times during different games, players could be seen praying before some of the plays on the field. At the time of celebrating winning the super bowl the Eagles’ coach Don said: I can only give the praise to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity. And I’m going to tell you something. I’ve got the best players in the world, and it’s a resilient group. I love this coaching staff. Mr. Lurie, the owner. And not only do we have the best fans in the world, we now have the best team in the world. Thank you guys.” What an incredible moment on national television for a coach to be so unified with Christ that he would praise Him and given him the glory!
Then we look at the Quarterback Nick Foles and we have to say that going into the playoffs, he had not been doing so well. It is a well-known fact that Nick is in the process of getting a divinity degree and hopes to someday be a pastor when his football career is over. Nick Foles has to be the most famous backup quarterback in the world today. Forced into action when franchise quarterback Carson Wentz went down earlier in the season with a knee injury, he led his team to the world title and was named Super Bowl MVP. Tight end Zach Ertz, who made the game-winning catch, then told the audience, “Glory to God first and foremost.” Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles followed Ertz to the microphone and said the same thing. Nick Foles describes himself on Twitter as a “believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, brother.” Many of his teammates share his faith in Jesus and are willing to make their commitment public.
The issue of athletes glorifying God at the end of victories is an ongoing debate. Some see it as an imposition of personal faith on the public. Others ask whether the players would have praised God if they had lost. I believe that even if they had lost, the coach and team would have praised God for giving them the opportunity to play in this final game together. To me, Coach Pederson and his players were simply following the biblical example: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1). Scripture teaches, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13). We are commanded to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
When are we to glorify God? “Continually.” The Eagles came through the playoffs as the underdogs but they looked to God for their perseverance and unified themselves with God’s vision. IT is when we work in our lives to align our lives with Christ that we find that we can accomplish anything because we first know that we are identified as a child of God!
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) Christ is the pattern. He is very God of very God, but He is also a man. When we follow the examples of Jesus, we become sanctified.
When we, through faith, reach out to God, the Lord saves us. We have been justified. Our sin nature has been recognized; we have turned away from the world and turned toward God. When we are justified by God, through our faith, we enter in to the process of sanctification: living in the image of Jesus. We have chosen the narrow path. We beg to be transformed by God. We have admitted that we were dead in our sin nature and now we are alive in Christ.
Charles Wesley, in his Confession of Faith, explained this transformation: “We believe sanctification is the work of God’s grace through the Word and Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words, and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will…” But, being in the process of sanctification does not free us from all the weaknesses of our physical nature. It is up to us to use our new-found relationship with God to fight against the “world, the flesh, and the devil”. To be sanctified, set aside by God, is not a once-and-done. It is a battle that we must face until we take our place with the saints in Heaven.
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.