Each week a member of LLC offers a short devotional to support you in your walk with Christ. We hope each week is an encouragement to you and leads you deeper in your relationship with our marvelous, ever loving God.
Here I sit, in my recliner chair after just reading Ramona's devotional. I am thinking to myself, this is a hard act to follow. Looking further back on the devotionals page, I see - Tim, Kevin, Mickey, Pastor Jon, Adrienne, Jeff - and me. How did I end up in this list of people, who know so much and have so much to offer? Who thought this was a good idea? As always, answers to all questions can be found in the Bible. One just needs to look.
Every year for the past few years, I have read through the Bible. This is not Bible study, but regularly being in the Word to become more and more familiar. This year I am working through the Taylor University One Year Bible reading plant. Currently, I am reading 1 Samuel in the Old Testament. When I first started reading the Bible, it felt stiff and unnatural. But the more I read, the more the words become natural and meaningful. The more I read the more real each person becomes. The more I read, the more God reveals and my relationship with Him grows. I love to read about David. I am grateful that God provides so much detail of David's life - from his youth to his death. When Saul's army encountered the Philistine army with Goliath in the lead, the men told David, "the king will enrich the man who kills him (Goliath) with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father's house free in Israel." 1 Sam 17:25. David slays Goliath the giant. Eventually, Saul offers David his elder daughter for marriage, which he does, by the way, because he was jealous of David and wanted the Philistines to kill him in battle, David says "Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father's clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?" 1 Sam 18:18. Saul Does this again and offers the younger daughter for marriage, then David says, "Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king's son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?" 1 Sam 18:23. Later on, after David realizes Saul is trying to kill him and he escapes to the caves, David has the change to kill Saul as he comes into the cave to relieve himself. David stealthily cuts off the corner of Saul's robe without him knowing, but he does not kill him. David tells his men who all think David should kill Saul, "The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD"s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD's anointed." 1 Sam 24:6. As Saul is walking away, David follows and bows with his face to the earth to pay homage. David tells Saul he will not try to kill him: "I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it." 1 Sam 24:11. "After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea!" 1 Sam 24:14. Saul stops pursuing David but not for long. He takes 3000 soldiers and again searches for David to kill him. At night, while Saul and his army fell into deep sleep from the LORD, David and his friend Abishai, tiptoe into camp, and take Saul's spear and drink. Then David wakes the whole camp. He shames Saul's bodyguard who apparently didn't know somebody was close enough to take the king's spear and drink. David says, "let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the LORD, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains." 1 Sam 26:20
David thought himself a flea in comparison to King Saul! If God could use David, who humbly thought himself a dead dog or a flea, then God could use me. As long as I am seeking God, I am right where I am supposed to be, in that list, right after Ramona and just before Jeff.
God has blessed Living Legacy Church with Godly men who are willing to give to the Lord as they lead us, encourage us, pray with and for us, laugh with us, fellowship with us (now through Zoom) and the context is Community Groups. I am thankful to be part of this blessing God has given. In the past weeks our Community Group has been studying God's attributes. What a rich time of learning more of who God is as we looked at one attribute each week. At the close of the series each person in our group briefly shared something from one of the attributes. I chose the attribute from our last week of study. God's Justice...God is just. I had never personally studied this attribute of God before so I did some studying before we met to discuss. I learned much as the discussion of the evening unfolded. "Justice, an attribute of God is rooted in His character." Perhaps this is why we studied it last? "All authority belongs to Jehovah God" is the bedrock for God is just.
Have you found that when studying something of our Christian faith God continues to bring more understanding in ways and places that surprise you after 'the study' is completed? This devotional arrived today. God is good to reinforce study of Truth that occurred in our Thursday evening Community Group. I am thankful. Here is a portion of the devotional:
Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. - Exodus 34:7
The bullet-riddled bodies of a young couple were found in Chicago on May 12, 1978. Acting on an anonymous phone tip, the police arrested four young men with no history of violence. They were convicted of kidnapping, rape and double murder. Two were sentenced to death row and all appeals failed. In September 1981, a tattered envelope with a return address of the "Condemned Unit," Menard, Illinois, arrived at the offices of the Chicago Lawyer magazine. That letter led the editor and publisher of the magazine and a journalism professor to investigate the case. They uncovered substantial evidence that exonerated the four convicts, including the first use of DNA to prove that multiple defendants were excluded as suspects in a rape case.
On July 2, 1996, more than eighteen years after the murder took place, the judge ended the unjust sentence by reading, "All the convictions are vacated." The four prisoners walked free. The next day, the state attorney's office charged the three real killers.
Since America's justice system can often be manipulated, many people mistakenly believe they can also manipulate the Lord's system of justice. But Deuteronomy 32:4 says, "The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He." He always acts consistent with the requirements of His character as revealed in His law. As the holy and righteous Sovereign of the universe, He cannot ignore or overlook sin. His decisions are always based on absolute truth."
(Devotion credit: The ministry, "The Presidential Prayer Team".)
Have you prayed about something and it did not seem like God answered you? Have you asked God a question or for guidance about something and no clarification ever came. If so you may be feeling along right now. I want to give you some encouragement. I will keep it brief with just two thoughts on how, I knew, I was never alone throughout my times of questioning God or life.
Last week was my turn to give my testimony for our community group. I have given my testimony many times and was trained in college how to prepare my testimony. A testimony is an important tool that God can use to convey a message to someone who may be listening. It often is very non threatening because you're not aware someone is in need of some wisdom and something you went through in your life they can relate to and you help them without ever knowing. The word testimony means to give an account about something. God uses our accounts of how he has worked in our lives to impact others. God tells us he will never leave us or forsake us. That does not mean he always directly answers us. My first thought is that God uses broken people to reach and to teach broken people. So be willing to share your testimony with others. You do not know how or what will impact others and how God will choose to use it at any given moment. We can impart wisdom to others for God because he gave it to us through lessons we learned. Wisdom is knowledge that is applied.
The Bible says in Proverbs 4:6-7, "Do no forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understand." All of us can use guardian angel to watch over us.
So if you have not yet learned how to give your testimony, I challenge you to learn and to share it. You never know who will benefit from lessons God has already taught you. Isn't that what the Bible is anyway, a lesson written down from the perspectives of the ones that went through it for us to learn God's truth?
As I was sharing my story with our group it brought sense of amazement to me as I was reminded of how much I was blessed by God. He provided so many great mentors to me at so many important crossroads in my journey. I never felt alone because God gave me so many different men to lean on and to gain wisdom and discernment from. They many times helped me find the answers to my situations from their testimonies or challenged me to search my heart and to lean on my own understanding from God's leading in my life. I would not be where I am now without the testimonies of others that God put in my life.
So the second thought is to challenge you to find someone to mentor or as we say in Christian speak, to love on. Our church family needs all of us to thrive and you might think you do not have much to say. That would be limiting God because he invested in you. He does not make mistakes so step out there and give back your not alone. Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one may sharpens another".
A few weeks ago, Pastor Jon was asking about the Resurrection during church and I shared how it's the "cap stone" of my faith, and, at times, the unmistakable proof of it was the only thing that kept me a Christian during some of my darkest times. And there's far more proof for the Resurrection than just "the Bible says so" (though, that should be enough... especially once you study how Scripture came together!). For instance, I'll tell you someone who proves the Resurrection...Richard Nixon.
Yes, that Richard Nixon, and yes, that scandal. Watergate proves the Resurrection. Think about it...Richard Nixon had 12 of the most powerful men on the planet. They had power, knowledge, and influence over many people, circumstances, and forces. They had all that, and they couldn't keep a lie for 3 weeks. 3 weeks!
Now, Jesus, on the other hand, had 12 of the least influential people on the planet, but some would have us believe they somehow kept the "lie" of Jesus' Resurrection for decades? And, unlike Nixon's men who were INSIDE the most powerful government on the planet, Jesus' men had to face down the most powerful government at that time, the unforgiving Roman Empire. And Nixon's men weren't facing torture and death, like ALL the Disciples did, and Nixon's men couldn't last 3 weeks?
It's impossible to think that Jesus' men, with all that against, could withstand those forces when Nixon's men couldn't come close. The only explanation for the Disciples to end up where they did was one thing: it was the truth.
I think I might start a small "series" for my contributions to the LLC Newsletter over the next several months for "Christian Apologetics". If you don't know, Apologetics Is NOT the study of how to apologize, but it comes from the Greek word meaning "speaking in defense". 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." It is my hope that we will strengthen our faith together through this, and through courage release from a solid foundation of faith, we will have the tools and confidence to always give that answer, and with gentleness and respect.
We live our lives with a bit of a dichotomy - there is what we think and there is what we do, or what we believe and how we act, or what we know and how we feel. The Bible recognizes this broken linkage between our head and our heart when it talks about faith & practices, knowing & obeying, understanding & loving, and describes Jesus as mighty in word and deed. In fact a significant aspect of our salvation is how God heals that broken linkage between our head and our heart, so that our knowledge informs our emotions rather than leaving us with our feelings about something determining our understanding, so that what we believe to be true prompts our actions.
At LLC we've been blessed to enjoy great fellowship, seemingly even more so as we more deliberately stay connected through technology during this quarantine - many of us have commented that our bonds of love for one another feel even stronger now than prior to the new rules of social distancing have reshaped how we get together. Are we just lucky, is the vigor of our fellowship simply a disconnected or arbitrary special blessing, is this situation common among other congregations? Some of you have noticed that one of my many daughters, Olivia, has been joining us for our ZOOM Sunday worship services...a few nights ago, in a family ZOOM get-together, Olivia mentioned how after the actual sermon & service as everyone was chatting and dad said something goofy - one of her sisters asked "what do you mean after the service? Our church just ends after the service and everyone signs off", and Olivia answered "oh these people stay on for half-an-hour or more after the service just visiting with each other".
My point here is that doesn't just happen, we're not lucky nor should we count this as an arbitrary blessing disconnected from our way of doing things. When Paul was in Miletus he determined to go to Jerusalem and so called for the elders of Ephesus to come to him before he departed. At that farewell we read "And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship". This is a scene drenched in love, the love of Christian fellowship - but again, the beauty of this kind of fellowship was not the fruit of good fortune or unaccountable blessings. What was behind, what caused, what built this kind of love for one another? The Bible tells us as it recounts Paul's message to the Ephesian elders just prior to their tearful goodbye -
"I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house...I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God".
The genuine fellowship we enjoy at LLC is the fruit of and is built on the sound Biblical teaching at LLC - we are acting according to our understanding, we are practicing what we know to be true. God has richly blessed LLC with sound teaching; Jon's sermons, those who fill the pulpit for Jon on occasion, the adult Sunday School classes, the community groups, and the various weekly group meetings are all populated with sound teaching and with attentive and vigorous students. What is the foundation the church is built on? At Pentecost, when the church was born at the coming of the Holy Spirit, we're told those who repented and were baptized "devoted themselves to fellowship"...?...no - we are told "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship". Our inclination is to relish in the love and fellowship of our brothers & sisters, and we absolutely should - but we mustn't miss or set aside the fact that what we believe, what we understand to be the truth, is what informs, defines, and prompts our fellowship.
We delight to see each other pop-up in little boxes on our screen because we've been well taught, because our doctrine is sound, because we stand and live in the truth of the Bible. And, I'm not asserting this is exclusively because we sit under good teachers, but because we all, teachers and students, sit under the Holy Spirit and the truth of His word...any teacher who is not learning from his students is not as good a teacher as he could be. Listen to Paul express his deep desire to visit Rome -
"For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you - that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine."
"The. Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!'" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening," (1 Samuel 3:10)
I can remember when our children were just beginning to stand. It was one of the most exciting chapters of life. New independence was just around the corner. As they made their first attempts at independent stability, we would hold their hands and gently pull them up. Then we would continue to hold onto their precious little fingers as they wobbled on their tiny little toes. Eventually, they grew confident and capable enough to let go of one of my hands, balancing partially on their own. Finally one day, unexpectedly, they let go of the other hand and stood fully one their own two feet. It was amazing!
In our text, Samual has been training under Eli, the priest of God. For years he had studied and learned from Eli. As his mentor, Eli carefully guided and supervised all of Samuels interactions with God, correcting when necessary and encouraging when possible. Then one night, God calls Samuel directly. When Eli realizes what is happening, he correctly understands that he must release Samuel to stand on his own. He will no longer serve as the intermediary or teacher, but now must surrender his young student to independently follow his God.
In regard to our relationship with Christ, the same can be true for you and me. Currently, some of us are in the same position as Eli. We are teachers that have invested much in young learners such as our children and students. As a result, we struggle to let go of those we lead for fear that they may fall. Yet, in order that their relationship with Christ flourishes, we must let go and trust tha our influence has provided a foundation upon which they can now independently thrive in their faith.
Others of us are Samuel, not fully understanding what is happening, but yet sensing God calling us to something deeper and fuller. However, following him there will require you to stand on our own and take personal responsibility for your faith. The unknown future is daunting and poses challenges we are unsure we can weather. Still we must take the challenge, leaving the safety of our teachers' protective grasp, and take responsibility for our relationship with Christ.
Regardless of whom you currently identify with, all of us an be encouraged that we are not alone. Whether needing strength to release the one we trained or letting go of the secure grasp of a trusted teacher and standing on our own, we are supported by the Holy Spirit who gives the strength we need to fulfill the calling he extends. As God once said to Joshua, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
In a world where the words "socially distant," "don't touch," "quarantine," and "isolate" are becoming a part of our everyday vernacular, it feels almost upside down from what we have grown used to. God so carefully designed us to want to be with each other, both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He designed us to thrive when in community when close to one another. "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." Romans 12:4-5
With this said, I pray that each of you are finding unique ways to still maintain these connections. I find myself hoping that during this time while we are physically distant, we are closer in connection in every other way possible. I am finding my days to be almost fuller than before! I find myself and my children connecting to more family and friends on a given day than ever before. I feel like our family has taken a creative spin on Matthew 18:20 "for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Jesus is alive and thriving within each of our connections, as different as it may look.
Also, we are genuinely having conversations with our neighbors, sharing resources, giving gifts, and spreading the light of Jesus. I can't help but hope that through all of this God is taking the opportunity to grow His church! I also pray that our growing emotional and spiritual connections will only strengthen our church and make our next physical gathering that much sweeter.
Join me in taking a moment today to connect with someone from our church family today in Zoom, Duo, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, text, phone call, email, or even traditional mail! Also, are you up for the challenge to join me in connection with someone physically close to you, who may be most desperate for relationship and be in the presence of Jesus? Let's form as many connections as possible!
One of my fondest memories of celebrating Easter as a teenager was the traditional Easter Sunrise service. This was an annual event for our youth group, who prepared and served a breakfast of ham and scrambled eggs to everyone after the service. I was a morning person back then, as well as now, so it wasn't out of my comfort zone to get up at 4 am to get dressed in my Easter best and head for our country church in the hills of Berks County, PA along with 8-10 other teens to set the tables, make sure the ham was baking, crack some eggs in bowls, and make sure the frying pans were ready to go. At sunrise, we would gather outside on the edge of the church cemetery, with everyone else, to joyously sing songs about a risen Lord and hear a short devotional celebrating that Jesus alive. There is just something special about breathing the crisp Spring air, early in the morning, and hearing outside voices proclaiming,
"Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!"
Our Easter celebration this year will be very unique, to say the least, but if you would like to join me at sunrise outside in your backyards, or on your porches, preferable facing the sunrise, and just meditate on the thought, "Was it a morning like this, when Mary went to the tomb and found a very alive Jesus?" Then you can shout "He's Alive!" After that get a cup of coffee and have some ham and eggs for an Easter breakfast!!