October 26 – I Will Remember: Don’t Let the Worship Die! 

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Read Acts of the Apostles 16:25

According to one “60 Minutes” interview, roughly 80 years ago, Jozef Kropinski was caught working for the Polish resistance during WWII and was imprisoned for four years until his death by the Nazis at Auschwitz. 

A composer, Kropinski served as violinist in the camp orchestra. At night, Kropinski would sneak into the “pathology lab” (where the bodies of those killed were dismembered) in order to write pieces of music that would “help raise the spirits of fellow prisoners.” His desire was to encourage fellow prisoners by using music to help them remember previous, more happy times. 

For many in the Nazi camps, music provided a relief from the reality. Several millennia ago, two prisoners modeled a similar idea. Imprisoned for removing powers of divination from a girl—and thus depriving her owners of income—Paul and Silas were attacked, stripped of their clothes, beaten, and bound in an inner chamber of the prison. We cannot know what this was like, but we can have an idea—it was lonely and gloomy, and appeared quite bleak. 

And yet faith and hope rose to heaven as the two prayed and sang songs to God. Oh, to listen in on this moment! In our modern times, we can imagine the two singing songs like “It is Well” or “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Amazing Grace.” The a cappella heart cry of someone in need is a sound like no other. It’s a holy moment between God and his child, between Jesus and his brothers and sisters and friends. 

In times of tragedy and distress, where anxiety and depression seek to capsize us, we must turn to worship and to song. This could be us singing, or us simply listening to or watching others worship. 

As praise arises, our hearts do as well. One way to practice this is to sing through the Psalms. Instead of reading them, sing them, choosing whatever melody that comes to mind. As your heart is stirred to life, it gives you courage to keep going, praising God even in the darkest of times.

Oh, and one other thing may happen—you will be a witness to those around you. As Paul and Silas prayed and sang, “the prisoners were listening to them.” Your praise is for your benefit, but it is also for the benefit of those around you. As you find joy, you can share joy. So today, sing loud and sing boldly. God reigns over all the earth, and he dwells within our hearts. 

Questions for Reflection

What songs come to mind as a heart-cry during this time of distress?  

How can we use praise and song to minister and care for those around us?

October 25 – I Will Remember: The Power and Intimacy of Jesus in Our Trials

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Read John 11:1-4, John 11:20-27, John 11:32-35, John 11:41-44

The story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus contains some of the most memorable verses in scripture. In it, John’s recount reveals a Jesus that is simultaneously powerful over death and intimate with those suffering. It is therefore not surprising that the passage has been a source of enduring comfort for those going through seasons of uncertainties and trials. 

At the outset, Jesus spoils the ending, revealing that Lazarus’ illness is not going to lead to death. While suffering is still coming, everything that is going to happen is “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 

Through this, John provides the framework for entering into stories of suffering. Even as God is not the author of sin or suffering, he uses these seasons so that we might bring him glory. Surely, at many points in the story, this would seem foolish, particularly as Mary and Martha are weeping. Yet by the end, Jesus’ words are vindicated as he calls Lazarus from the tomb. 

We see why Jesus allows this pain and suffering at the deepest point in the story while talking with Martha. Comforting her, Jesus reveals not only who he is, but what that means for those who believe in him. Into her pain and loss, Jesus announces, “I am the resurrection and the life.” 

Through our pain, it is this truth that secures us as an anchor for a ship in a storm. Come what may, Christ has conquered death, and through him, we have life. 

At the same time, it is important not to miss the intimacy of the passage. In times of trial, we often run to God’s power and sovereignty. This is good, reminding us that he is in control when so many things seem to be out of our hands. Yet over time as crisis deepens, many Christians struggle to believe God is with them in their pain. John invites us to see Jesus’ humanity in his empathy for Mary and Martha. 

Moved in his spirit and visibly crying, Jesus models for us his teaching to mourn with those who mourn. 

Questions for Reflection

Just as Jesus entered into the pain of Mary and Martha, who in your community needs you to enter into their mourning? Reflect on signs of pain where you can share in their burden while bringing the message of Christ’s resurrection as the hope for their deliverance. 

October 24 – I Will Remember – Do This in Remembrance of Me: The Wonder of the Lord’s Supper

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Read Luke 22:14-23, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

One of my favorite times with the local church is when we observe the Lord’s Supper together. It is one of the most intimate, reflective, and celebratory times we have. Now I understand while some may call it communion, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, the Lord’s supper is a sacrament (or an ordinance in some traditions) that all Christian faith traditions observe as it has been handed down to us from Christ himself. 

Go back in time to that first Lord’s Supper. Moments before Christ would be betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked, flogged, and crucified, he gathered his disciples together for one last meal. But it wasn’t a normal meal—it was a deep, meaningful, and sacred one. 

What’s interesting about the institution of this meal is that it was replacing another deep, meaningful, and sacred meal that the Jews observed. That meal was called the Passover, a meal Jews shared to celebrate their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. 

At Jesus’ meal with his disciples, he began by breaking bread and speaking about how this was his body given for them. Following the bread was the wine. He held up the glass and described this cup as the “new covenant” in his blood—blood poured out for all people. 

As you could imagine, for Jesus’ disciples, it was a weird meal to say the least. However, it would come to make total sense with Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. It was then they realized why Jesus uttered, “Do this in remembrance of me.” As a result, they continued to observe the meal. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11:23–25, Paul describes how the early church observed the Lord’s Supper. He explains how the practice of the Lord’s Supper proclaims “the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

The institution of the Lord’s Supper wasn’t meant to be just a time of recalling Christ’s death. Sure, that is part of it. But as N.T. Wright suggests, “The present moment (whenever) somehow holds together the one-off past even (the Lord’s death) and the great future when God’s world will be remade under Jesus’ loving rule (until he comes).” 

Therefore, when God’s people observe the Lord’s Supper—remembering the death of Christ—there is a celebration (for what he has done), there is a consecration (for what he is doing in and through us now), and there is an anticipation (as we long for his coming when he will fully make all things new).This is the wonder of remembering Christ’s death and resurrection through the Eucharist with the saints. 

Questions for Reflection

Take a few moments to think through the implications of Christ’s death in your life. Thank him for what he has done. 

Now ask him what his death and resurrection mean for those around you.  

October 23 – I Will Remember: Resting in God’s Power

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Read Mark 4:35-41, Mark 5:22-43

In times of trial, one of the most treasured passages in scripture is of Jesus calming the storm while out to sea with the disciples. Falling asleep, Jesus is awoken by disciples who are not only fearful of the storm, but disturbed by Jesus’ apparent lack of care for them. Into this chaos Jesus rebukes the wind and waves, causing them to immediately cease. 

This passage is the first of three stories in Mark that underscore Jesus’ power. Here, Jesus reveals his dominion over his creation, calming the storm. In Mark 5:1-21, Jesus casts a demon out of a man, revealing his dominion over the spiritual forces at work in the world. 

Finally, in Mark 5:22-43, Jesus heals a woman and servant of a chronic illness and death, respectively, revealing his dominion over even disease and death. 

In all, Mark reminds us that during seasons of trial and opposition, there is nothing that is beyond the power of Jesus. 

This is a hard lesson to remember when we are in the midst of storms, facing opposition, or dealing with illness or possible death. Yet how we react in the storm speaks to how well we understand who Jesus is and how he cares for us. 

Jesus rebukes the disciples because they don’t grasp these two points. They don’t know who he is as the creator and ruler of the universe, fearing the storm is greater than he is. They also don’t trust that he cares for them, going so far as to ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” 

As we try to navigate difficult seasons, we must continually refresh our faith in the answers to these two questions. Jesus is the lord of the universe, the second member of the trinity, to whom all dominion and power has been given. He is also our savior who endures with and has given to us his Spirit.  

Questions for Reflection

How are you responding to God as you are walking through this difficult time? Do you see him as asleep? Unaware, unable, and uncaring of your situation? 

Recognize that those who don’t know Jesus are like the disciples in the boat: fearful and uncertain. How can you share how Jesus has provided calmness in your life in the midst of the storm?

October 22 – I Will Remember: Because of God, the Future Is Bright!

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Read Psalms 27:13-14, Psalms 31:24, Psalms 121:1-2

He had lost everything, his family had been broken, and he had been imprisoned. And yet two centuries ago, when a reporter asked missionary Adoniram Judson what would happen to Burma (where he served for 40 years) after war had devastated the land, he exclaimed, “The future is as bright as the promises of God!”

What faith has to offer us is the ability to see and to believe that our reality today will not last forever. When all is dark around us and those near us cry “We are perishing!” we can lift our eyes up to the hills as the Psalmist did and repeat, “…where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).

None of us knows what the future holds. None of us can say that after great tragedy life will be the same. ‘Normal’ becomes relative and sometimes must be drastically redefined. 

What we do know is that we have a God who promises to be with us, throughout all generations, who never changes, and who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Psalm 27:13 says, “I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” It’s a radical faith that looks at God’s work throughout history and remembers that after all tragedy, life continues. It is a radical faith that accepts that ‘normal’ may be difficult for a while, but nonetheless believes that difficult does not mean ‘absent from God’s goodness.’ 

The tragedy of this moment screams at us that this is all there is. It mocks us and woos us into thinking that tomorrow is but a darkened room where none can enter. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a tomorrow, and despite what our hearts keep telling us, it is bright. Because God is in it. His goodness is in it. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).

Questions for Reflection

Do you believe that the future is as bright as the promises of God? What does this mean on a day-to-day basis for you? 

How can we remind those around us that the goodness of the Lord will come, and in fact, has come?

October 21 – I Will Remember: Two-Way Communication

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Read Habakkuk 2:1-20, Genesis 32:22-32

A quick glance at the Old Testament prophets tells us that although each played a critical role in speaking truth to God’s people—often prior to or during times of tragedy and crisis—prophets had hard lives. Most were the target of persecution and attack. They were sometimes beaten, imprisoned, and mocked. 

However, each also possessed a quality which we can demonstrate during times of personal or global crisis—open communication. Habbukuk, the 7th-century prophet who prophesied an imminent Chaldean invasion to the people of Judah, is a fascinating example of what it looks like to communicate openly with God during times of uncertainty and fear. 

Meaning “embracer,” his very name foretells what we will see as we read through the three chapters of Habbakuk. It’s a back-and-forth conversation which goes something like this: Habbakuk cries out to God for help and God responds with reminders of what he is doing. 

In one moving verse, Habbakuk exclaims, “I will take my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me” (2:1). Can you just imagine? It’s the picture of stubbornness—of complete trust that God will answer and that Habbakuk will wait as long as necessary to receive that answer. Only a few verses later, the Lord does respond; but in his response, he tells Habbukuk that his answer will not come now: “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (2:3). 

Perhaps this conjures up images of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32 and his cry that “I won’t let you go unless you bless me” (v. 26). In times of difficulty, we keep pressing forward with God. We believe and trust that the more we press into him, the more he will offer back to us. 

Crisis reveals a communication channel that is two-way. We cry out to God, and he responds. We wait upon God, and he answers. It’s time to sit on our watchposts and see what God is trying to say to us. 

Questions for Reflection

Cry out to God. And then wait. Believe he will answer. And be in awe of his response. 

How can we speak the truth to those around us that communication with God can be a two-way street?

October 18 – I Will Remember: Rising Up and Building Even During Times of Trial

The following is a YouVersion plan written by the Billy Graham Center. To participate with this plan on YouVersion, download the app, create an account and click on the link here to participate:

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Read Nehemiah 1:2-4. Nehemiah 2:17-20, Nehemiah 1:4-11

In the opening pages of Nehemiah, we hear horrible news: Jerusalem is in ruins. We can see how much a crisis this is for the people of Israel in Nehemiah’s reaction. He not only weeps, fasts, and prays, but he works up the courage to go to the King who sends him to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls around the city. 

Upon arriving, Nehemiah surveys the scene before recruiting those in the city to join in rebuilding. In the story, we see that it was not simply a matter of city defenses, but a statement about God and his people. In his prayer in 1:4-11, Nehemiah repents of how Israel had been unfaithful and calls upon God to hear and respond to their need. 

In walking through this passage, three features of Nehemiah’s response are helpful for us when we’re faced with a crisis. 

First, Nehemiah’s initial reaction was to mourn and pray for God’s provision. In times of trial, our first instinct is often to act in our own strength. Moreover, we can belittle or minimize our emotions of pain and frustration. Yet Nehemiah turns his mourning towards God in prayer to seek him rather than dismiss it as unimportant or wrong. 

Second, notice that upon arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah sets to work recognizing that it is time to “rise up and build.” Times of crisis and trial can sometimes freeze us with inaction. Yet Nehemiah recognizes that God has set him on mission and likewise calls others to join him. That ought to be our focus as well. 

Finally, when Nehemiah is confronted by opposition, he does not allow them to distract from his objective. Rather, he recognizes the opposition for what it is and reorients back to what God has called him to do. 

Throughout the passage, we see a powerful example of responding to the difficult seasons of life. Beginning with mourning and prayer, we need to move out on mission and fend off those who attempt to distract us from God’s calling. 

Questions for Reflection

How have you responded in times of trial and difficulty?

How can you be a light to others during times of anxiety and fear? 

July 11 – United: Country – Acts 10

Read Acts 10:1-48

“Eat what?!”

Peter, a devout Jewish leader, was confused. A vision of food he was forbidden to eat appeared three times to him. According to Jewish rule, certain foods were off limits. (Check Leviticus 11 for a list of clean and unclean foods). Peter had followed the rules all of his life. He did this to honor God and to show he was part of God’s chosen people. The vision instructed Peter to set aside those rules and eat the forbidden food (v. 13). Was God really saying it was okay to eat these foods? Wasn’t this part of what set the Jewish people apart from the Gentiles? Wasn’t this practice of abstaining from certain foods, among other rules, what honored God? Was the traditional Jewish way the “right” way?

God was not asking Peter to dishonor God. He was calling Peter to a unity with Gentile believers. God’s request of Peter was not about the food. It was about setting aside differences in order to worship in a unified way. This unity was based on their common faith and belief in the one true God.

The contrasts between Peter and Cornelius were stark. Peter was a tradesman and of humble Jewish background and religious training. Cornelius was a Roman official with military training and had the financial resources to share generously with others. Despite these differences, God was calling them to unity. God wants all of us to share in this unity.

God’s love is the unifying factor. God sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for all people. He made a way for all who love Him to spend eternity with Him. We may not all worship Him in the same ways, but we all serve the same Savior. God does not show partiality based on ethnic background or social status or educational training. God examines the heart.

Maybe God is not asking you to eat certain foods, but maybe He is asking you to share a meal with someone of a different ethnicity or culture. Or maybe explore the traditions of a different race in order to better understand the differences in lifestyles. Perhaps you could take time to thank God for the diversity we get to enjoy in life and how it points us to a loving God who loves our acts of worship that praise His name no matter our social standing or background.

Tammy Finney

May 9 – When I Get Out – Called For This Time and This Place

Read Psalm 23 and Psalm 46:10

I had first heard of the novel Coronavirus in early January when I was on a winter vacation to Mexico. At that point, little was known about the virus and I, like many Americans,  wrote it off as a disease in some distant land that would never really impact me, much like that of Ebola or Zika that have occurred in my lifetime. I could have never imagined what would come just three short months later.

Life as we know it changed forever.

Adjusting to life in lock down was hard, and I anticipate the adjustment to the “new normal” will be as well. While I look forward to the day that a vaccine allows us to formally return to our normal lives, attending sporting events, and being able to hold large gatherings, the reality is the best science says that will not be a reality broadly until at least this time next year. My heart hurts typing those words. Yet, I must resist the urge to just wish away the next twelve months. God has made something abundantly clear to me during this time in isolation- we have been called for this time and to be in this place. He has a plan and something to teach each of us.

If we have had the chance to meet, you know I am a “go go go” individual. Isolating and being in lockdown has been particularly hard. But in many ways, it’s been good. I had read the words in Psalm 46:10 many times before. But now for the first time in my life, I am able to fully appreciate the beauty of this passage. In the stillness, in the quiet, I am reminded of the power and majesty of our God. During the moments when I have felt weak and powerless in the face of an enemy I don’t quite understand, I am reminded that there is nothing that our God cannot do; He will be exalted over this world. When I feel most alone, and loneliness creeps into my thoughts, I am reminded of the words we read in Psalm 23:6 “surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.” The world we live in is anything but calm, but it has opened the door for us to truly be still. This time of physical quiet has opened the door for each of us to have a spiritual awakening in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

While the world looks to begin a slow phased reopening and folks (me included) chomp at the bit to get back to work, take the Lord up on his offer to truly “be still” before the full lockdown ends. For me, He has reminded me of some of the foundational truths of faith that I hadn’t had the chance to rest in for quite some time. I wonder what He might want to say to you today?

Worship the Lord with me today by listening to “Be Still” by Hillsong Worship.

Taylor Bennington

 

July 4: Fruit of the Spirit – Self-Control

Read Titus 2:1-15

SELF-CONTROL — I am able to control myself through Christ.

For the grace of God . . . teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives . . . (vv. 11-12).

The gift God gave when Jesus gave His life, shed His very own blood in our place, that gift is not just a one-time thing. Sure, when we ask Him to forgive us and to be our Lord, when we trust Him as the Savior of our forever lives, at that moment He forgives and changes our status from “dead in sin” to “alive for real and forever.” But God’s gift of grace continues in us. He uses it do work in our souls. God uses His grace to teach us how to really live, the way He designed us to.

The very grace of God, the grace that sent Jesus Christ the King of Life to sinful, dirty, dark earth for 33 years, continues on. In these Holy Spirit-inspired words, the Apostle Paul lays out instructions for the church about how to behave, how to follow God’s ways so that His way of life becomes our own. And it is this grace, this undeserved gift of Jesus Christ and real life, that transforms us into godly people who live godly lives. Godly people whose living is controlled by the Spirit Who lives inside of us. Righteous living that shows off Who God is to the dark, sin-infested world full of people who don’t yet know this real life through Jesus. The grace of God instructs His people to live in a way that reflects His choices, His life, His righteousness. This is self-control.

The word in the original Greek is sophronos. King James translates it as discreetly. It means “living soberly, with moderation, prudently reflecting the radical-balance birthed within by faith from the Lord.” (You can check that out here: http://concordances.org/greek/4996.htm) You see, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every single Jesus-follower has it within them to live self-controlled lives. So when we are faced with the want to go on some crazy spending spree but we know we don’t have the cash, we have the strength to say no. And when we want to throw a temper tantrum because something didn’t go like we wanted it to, we have the power to calmly deal with the disappointment and avoid looking like a two-year-old.

The thing about self-control is that it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit alive in us. It grows in us as we know Him and follow Him more intimately, relying on His power within us.

brw