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Lent Day 37 – Identified with Christ

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Insights on From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional by A.W. Tozer

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!

DM

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Lent Day 31 – God Stands Ready

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Insights on From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional by A.W. Tozer

by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor / Valpo FUMC

Do you struggle with which direction in life to go? We all struggle every day to keep our focus on God and His wisdom. Temptations are everywhere. Social media is always putting some temptation to spend money; to join a rant about some cause; or to spend money on some great product that turns out to be a scam. It is James’ intent in this passage to show us the direction by imperatively grabbing us with the essential desire to honor God and relate to people. This calls us to direct, hands-on action without delay. We are to humble ourselves before God and, at the same time, resist the devil, as we cannot serve both. When we draw near to God, the devil is pushed further away. If we draw near to the devil, then God is pushed further away. The signpost is clear where we are to go; the direction we choose is up to us.

God wants us to make the fervent attempt to repent, get right with Him, and not lead a double life in trying to serve two contradictory paths in life. When we do, we are being hypocritical, creating broken relationships, shattered lives, and unmet opportunities. This leaves us in despair as the devil and our ways have no hope or purpose other than to steal what God has to give to us. We already have joy and completeness in Christ when our hearts and minds are centered on Him. So, the bottom line of this passage is the call to submit and surrender to God, allowing Him to be our only Lord and direction. Then, He will lift us up beyond our greatest desires and plans to a much greater plan and purpose in life!

Verse 7 asks us the crucial question: are we resisting God or resisting the devil? How we respond to life and other people will be rooted in how we respond to God. Do we fight Him or do we glorify Him? How do we know? The answer is in how we are with our attitudes and mindsets; are we humble or proud? If we are proud, we are serving the devil, even though we may think we are serving ourselves. If we are humble, then we are serving our Lord. This strikes at the root of our mindset and motivation in life.

Several years ago, I worked with peoples who had addictions that they were trying to overcome through a Bible based step program. These men and women were abundantly honest with how difficult their task was in life to oppose the evil one and to stay focused on God. Daily prayer with their prayer partner and hourly scripture readings helped them stay focused throughout the day as they worked hard to stay steady in avoiding their addictions. We talked about when you give a problem to God in prayer, do Not insult Him by taking the problem back if He doesn’t answer your prayer fast enough OR if His answer isn’t something you are willing to do. Also, while you are waiting for Him to answer your prayers, remember that no answer is an answer. He may just be trying to show you how strong you are when He makes you practice patience and strengthen you faith in Him. Each person, worked hard to resist their addictions and turn their lives over to God for help and perseverance. Today, six of the ten are still free of their addictions and are leading Christ focused productive lives. All have a routine each day that keeps them focused on the God of hope, love and mercy who they Praise as they oppose the temptations the evil one tries to lure them with. They let God work in their lives to refine them and therefore have found joy abundant as their reflect God’s love and mercy.

DM

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Lent Day 25 – Praise God for the Furnace

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Insights on From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional by A.W. Tozer

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?

DM

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Lent Day 19 – We Must Die If We Would Live

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Insights on From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional by A.W. Tozer

by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor / Valpo FUMC

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.—Galatians 2:20

People sometimes will use the expression, “We all have our cross to bear.” But our cross to bear is not whatever we find difficult in life. The cross to bear, so to speak, is the same for everyone: it is dying to self.

Dying to self means resisting the temptation to do what everyone else is doing when you know it is wrong. Dying to self means forgiving instead of harboring a grudge. Dying to self means putting down the remote control and picking up the Bible. Dying to self means praying when you would rather be sleeping. Dying to self means swallowing your pride and telling someone about Jesus Christ. Dying to self means doing what God wants you to do rather than doing what you want to do.

Jesus said, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). That does not mean you must take a vow of poverty and give every possession away to be a disciple of Jesus. “Forsake all” literally could be translated, “Surrender your claim to, say good-bye to.” This means that true disciples of Jesus are not possessed by their possessions.

When you die to yourself and take up the cross, you will experience joy and an overflowing life. The apostle Paul put it this way: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Nearly 15 years, ago, I found myself in a battle with cancer for my life. As chemotherapy continued to strip me of all my known defenses, I turned to my faith and realized that the one true constant that I could depend on was Christ who lived within me in my heart, my mind and my soul. Christ’s love, grace, mercy and compassion was what allowed me to continue the fight even when my body could fight no more. Every day I would read Christ’s word, and I would be able to take on another day. When I was well enough to return to the office at the church, I literally knelt down at the foot of the cross and thanked God for blessing my life. That day, my husband died and left myself and my children with more questions than answers as we all died to self again as we gave up the security of the worldly life that we had known and found ourselves once again digging deep to find God’s grace that was sufficient to support each of us as we moved forward in life.

So, If you want to be a disciple, then you must love God more than anyone or anything else. You must deny yourself. And you must take up the cross and follow Jesus. Then you will find joy abundant.

DM

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Lent Day 13 – Stopped Dead in Your Tracks?

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Insights on From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional by A.W. Tozer

by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor / Valpo FUMC

It has been a blessing in my life to have had incredible spiritual people that have been placed in my life for a period of time to mentor me and to challenge me to want the depth of faith that I witnessed in their lives. One special spiritual friend once told me that accepting Jesus into our hearts and lives is only the beginning of the journey. How that acceptance transforms our life’s journey is the real challenge. As Tozer states, the Word of God will awaken a desire within us to move forward in a spiritual adventure with Christ. The adventure is not just speaking and talking but taking action and doing.

As a pastor, I have had the privilege of leading people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Then I have watched as these same people become hungry for more knowledge and a deeper relationship with their Lord. Through Emmaus journey, Bible studies, retreats, small groups, and worship experiences, I have been privileged to witness, people become disciples as the Holy Spirit leads them forward in their lives as their faith calls them to become a disciple of Jesus.

As a chaplain, I am called to constantly look for how God is revealing himself anew through a nurse, a doctor or a patient. I have had the honor to see people make their own choice to turn off life support systems because they know through their faith that they are about to receive the ultimate prize of eternal life which gives them incredible peace. I also with sadness witness people who have never accepted Jesus and do not have the assurance of His love, grace and mercy in their lives. At their time of their physical death there is not the peace that passes all human understanding but rather tears and pain and regret. I also have the privilege of encouraging people that God is with them in their time of need and that they need to listen and be aware of when they will next have the privilege of seeing God revealed anew to them—-whether it is through the loving care of a nurse or the compassionate touch of a doctor or the support of a devoted family.

As we journey through our lives, we must stay alert and awake for a sign, a whisper or an opportunity to gain—-to know Christ more fully—-to see Christ anew in His creation—–to hear His higher call to action as His hands and feet in this chaotic and hurting world which is the sacred prize.

DM

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Lent Day 7 – Bible Taught or Spirit Taught?

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Insights on From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional by A.W. Tozer

by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor/Valpo FUMC

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.

DM

Lent Day 1 – “The Hunger of the Wilderness”

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Insights on “From the Grave: A 40-Day Lent Devotional” by A.W. Tozer

by Rev. Dee Miller – Visitation Pastor/Valpo FUMC

Time of solitude!!! Many people have difficulty being alone in the silence but if you know the words of Jesus: “I am with you always…..” then you can learn to enjoy a routine of solitude and quiet sometime during the day. In order to produce fruitfulness, both the fields of the earth and the direction of our days needs quiet time. Psalm 46:10 tell us: “Be still and know that I am God.” Jesus himself modeled for us over and over again a need to pull away from the daily demands to pray, to listen and to refresh his relationship with God.

Twenty years ago, I began my 5 a.m. routine of getting up and reading the Bible and devotion book sitting in a big chair with a warm blanket, cuddling with my four legged children. This daily time has been a life-giving routine for me. It allowed me to walk through the darkness after my husband’s death and it also allowed me to be a cancer survivor of 15 years. This time gives me a positive loving focus for the day and gives me the tools and lens to walk through what life transpires. With this time of focus, my heart can be filled of love, grace, and peace so that when it is time for me to use my voice during the day it hopefully will reflect what my heart is full of: God’s love.

Our world is so full of chaos: if it isn’t the many dreary stories on the news, you can turn to social media, whether it is facebook, twitter, or instant messenger and find the chaos of the world encroaching into our very lives, tempting us to join the chaotic merry go round. Any spiritual experience, whether it is hiking, sitting in silence, or taking retreat to some special place can help exempt us from temptation and spiritual warfare. If we aren’t watchful and prayerful, “the neglected heart will so be a heart overrun with worldly things.” So during this Lenten season, take some time of solitude and focus on what good lies within and feel God’s comfort and wisdom around you. Listen to God in the silence and be filled with love and forgiveness and peace.