What are some things in life which seem unimaginable? As time moves forward, things which humans have thought impossible have become possible. History records an endless number of situations when humans have declared something impossible which today we take for granted. Human airflight, speaking to someone over five thousand miles away instantly, living in space, are just a few examples. While some feats take many years to become possible, we are witness to the impossible becoming reality. Yet even as far as humanity has come (and will go), humanity still has limits.
At the end of a prayer which Paul is writing for the believers in Ephesus, we read a benediction in today’s verses. Paul is speaking of God’s ability to do more than we even ask or can imagine. Notice that this great power of God is in conjunction with us. Paul says that this power to do the unimaginable works in us, or through us. Because of God’s choice to work through us, Paul goes on to say glory should be given in the church and in Christ.
Paul places perspective on the achievements of humanity. The advancements which have been made through discoveries, inventions, and work of humans are possible through the power of God. What humanity imagines into reality is God working through us. Because of God providing the power in abilities, skills, imagination, challenges, and wisdom, the impossible of yesterday becomes possible today. This truth is reason enough to give God the glory.
After an extended hiatus due to moving and complications related to the move, I am back. The difficulties which we experienced easily could have defeated my spirit. I have even considered whether I would resume my writing of online devotionals. What gave me the strength to push through the challenges, and also return to writing, has been the Spirit of the Lord. Through frequent and earnest prayer, I was able to be enveloped in the Spirit. The spirit gave me strength when I was emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted. This same Spirit has nudged me to resume writing devotionals.
In our focus passage for today, Paul is giving instruction to one of his proteges, Timothy. He writes in his letter to Timothy that he must fan the gift he has received from God until it becomes a burning flame. Paul reminds Timothy that God has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline, not one of timidity. Paul’s words are intended to urge Timothy to boldly develop and use the gift which comes from God.
Each of us have moments when we do not think we can push forward. We have times of doubt in which we may not find value in a gift, or gifts, God has given to us. Giving up, quitting, may seem appealing. We may even attempt to convince ourselves that ceasing our efforts is the best course of action. These periods in our lives is when Paul’s words speak to us the strongest. Being reminded of the importance to expand and use God’s gifts is the prompt which we need. Receiving the assurance that God has not placed a spirit of timidity in us but one of boldness in power, love, and discipline encourages us. I know it does me. Maybe it does you as well.
One of my employment opportunities in the past was in insurance sales. I was not very successful in this profession but I did acquire some beneficial training and skills. Early in my training, a colleague passed on some advice to me which I first attributed to him but later learned that the United States Navy noted it in the 1960s. My colleague shared an acronym to follow… K.I.S.S., keep it simple stupid. The principle points to how often we want to make something more grandiose or extended than it really needs to be. While I do not like the last word choice in the acronym, I have found the principle very applicable in many situations.
The reading for today is a Biblical story which applies the KISS acronym. We are introduced to a beloved Aramian commander who suffered from a skin disorder which was given the common name, leprosy. Naaman, the commander, learned of a Samarian prophet who may be able to cure his skin disorder. The king of Aram sends him to Samaria with his blessing and a request to the king of Israel to be sure Naaman is cured. When Naaman comes to the prophet Elisha, he receives a message from Elisha to go and wash in the Jordan seven times (or completely). Naaman is angered by this because Elisha did not even come to see him. The commander expected some great action to take place for him to be healed. His servants convince him to at least give it a try and when he does, he is healed. Naaman then wants to reward Elisha but Elisha refuses to accept anything so Naaman vows to only worship God from now on. Naaman expected something elaborate but Elisha knew it only needed to be simple.
For us, it is easy to relate with Naaman. We often view events in life as the old adage which says… Go big or go home! In some ways it seems logical to us that the Creator of the universe and all that is in it would choose to use a powerful and noticeable action to get things accomplished. However, we quickly discover that God acts in quiet and simple ways much more often than in loud and attention-getting ways. Our God does not need a flashy show to establish a presence and affect change. God’s power and authority is best experienced in the quiet surprises and subtle changes. Seems like a pretty good example for us to follow.
All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.
In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.
Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.
The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.
A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.
Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.
Today we conclude our examination of the Lord’s Prayer. If you have read the passage from Matthew, you have noted that in Scripture the prayer concludes with “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Roman Catholic version of the prayer uses this ending when the prayer is used in its liturgy. The Protestant church adds the line, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.”
There are a smattering of examples of including this line at various times in history. Some ancient translations of the Luke version include this ending referred to as a doxology. These ancient texts are not perceived as being reliable so modern translations of both Matthew and Luke omit this line.
The origin of this doxology is found associated with a prayer which David said in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13. It was a frequent custom of the Jewish people to use similar doxologies to conclude their prayers. Christians in the Eastern half of the\Roman Empire added the doxology when using the prayer at Mass. The Didache, a manual on how to live as a Christian, included the doxology. Even some Greek translations of the Bible included it. Queen Elizabeth I of England required it be used with the prayer to separate the Church of England from the Roman Catholics. As part of the Communion Rite in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church today, the doxology is included but not directly at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead, the prayer is followed by the priest continuing in prayer. When the priest finishes the additional petitions, the people say the doxology.
What does all of this mean for us today? By including this line, we are acknowledging that God is the one capable of answering our petitions. We are saying that God has established God’s reign in the world and our lives. We declare our belief that God has the power to accomplish all which we request. We add our praise to the glory of our God which has no end.
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-16 (NIV)
Thunderstorms have always intrigued me. Throughout my childhood I accumulated many memories of thunderstorms rolling through our small, Midwestern farm community. We had an empty lot next to our house where Dad would often stand and watch the storm until it started raining too much. I was always glad when I could sneak away from Mom long enough to join Dad in the empty lot. If we had to retreat to the house, we would stand in the living room so we could watch through the large picture window. Today I still enjoy thunderstorms but one of our dogs is petrified of them so I spend my time comforting him. Thunderstorms display such power and strength.
The passage which we read today cornes from an often misunderstood and misused book of the Bible. The book is a recounting of a vision or dream. Imagery from this vision is intended to communicate thoughts and ideas regarding God, Christ, angels, and people. The verses lifted to us here contain a vision of Christ in heaven. We see Christ as royalty. The image is one of power, strength, and authority. This is communicated by describing Christ as a royal, military figure because in the experiences of the writer, such a figure had those attributes.
Reading this passage today has caused me to reflect upon what image I may see when I encounter Christ. I can only imagine. What about you?
Reflect on that question as you watch this video and listen to the song.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
James 5:13-20 (NIV)
Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”
In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.
As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.
An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Luke 7:1-10 (NIV)
Have you ever noticed how some individuals seem to exude authority whenever you encounter them? The person seems to command a room from the moment of entering the room. Everyone in the room senses this authority even if they have no idea who the person is or what title the individual may carry. There are others who only have authority over people because of their titles. In some of the latter cases, the title does not fit the personality and the authority is not natural. True authority respects authority and earns the respect of others.
Jesus is one who exudes natural authority. This can plainly be seen from today’s passage. Jesus had just finished teaching on a hillside and was entering his home base of Capernaum. His reputation precedes him so when a centurion heard of Jesus’s return to the city, he sought help for a beloved servant. The Roman centurion respected and believed in Jesus’s authority. Understanding the dynamics of going through proper channels, the centurion went to the city’s Jewish leadership to request Jesus’s healing powers. When it appears that Jesus may come to his house, the Roman leader acknowledges Jesus’s authority and healing power. In this recognition of his power, Jesus is impressed because this is a recognition that most Jews had not even given him.
This passage begs the question of us, “Do we acknowledge Jesus’s authority and power?” Maybe we are like the people of Israel who admit Jesus is a unique servant of God but with limitations, and certainly not the Messiah or Savior. By acknowledging the authority of Jesus in our lives, we can unlock the power of the Lord to make a difference in our lives. Scripture tells us that the Father has given all authority in heaven and the earth to Jesus. All we must do is to believe and respect that authority.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)
When a person is preparing to complete a project, it is important to ensure that you have all the items you need for the project. Whether it is cooking a meal or building a doghouse, you cannot successfully achieve a satisfactory outcome if you are missing ingredients, materials or necessary tools. Planning out your work, collecting necessary items, and organizing allows you to succeed. If you are lacking in anything, the end result will be subpar or possibly a total failure.
In the letter we refer to as 2 Peter, we are told that we have been given everything we need for a godly life. This can be found in the knowledge of the Lord who called us; called us to be heirs of the kingdom of God. We have been given promises which allow us to participate in God’s divine nature. The letter continues by encouraging us to gather the elements which will make us effective and productive in our knowledge of the Lord. We are to confirm our call and election as heirs to God’s eternal kingdom.
What exciting news is found here. We learn that we have been given by God all that we need to confirm our eternal kingdom inheritance. We have been given the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. The knowledge that Jesus is God’s Son who obtained for us the removal of our sin is what we need to be called inheritors of the kingdom. Adding to this an adoption of Christ-like behaviors and traits makes our knowledge even more effective. We only need to confirm this by publicly declaring what we know to be true about Jesus Christ. It is like picking up our free pass into the kingdom.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
2 Timothy 1:6-10 (NIV)
There are people who thrive being in front of groups to speak or perform. Others are extremely uncomfortable being in front of groups. One factor which can influence the comfort level of the individual is the type and size of the group. Another factor of influence can be the purpose or subject matter. The individual’s personality type may increase or decrease the comfort. A person’s sense of skill or confidence in knowledge impacts how he/she responds to being in front. All of these factors combined in varying degrees influence an individual’s willingness to be in front of others.
In what we read today, Paul is writing a letter to one of his disciples, Timothy. He is sharing words intended to build up Timothy in his efforts to share the gospel. A reminder to fan the flame which God has placed in Timothy begins this section of the letter. The flame is a gift of the Spirit which gives power, love and self-discipline. Through the gift, shame in sharing the story of the gospel is dispelled. The story of being saved and led to a holy life through God’s purpose and grace as revealed by Jesus Christ is what Paul tells Timothy to share.
Like Timothy, we can benefit from a similar pep talk at various times. We can become timid or lose our energy in sharing our gospel story. During these times, Paul’s words reminding us of the importance in fanning the flame in us and the power, love and self-discipline which we receive from the Spirit may assist us in sharing before others. Participating in the corporate worship of the Lord can fan the flame. Reading Scripture and being in fellowship with other believers can fan the flame. Time in prayer and consultation with the Lord can remind us of the gifts of the Spirit which we possess. Together this can assist us when we might become uncomfortable or ashamed to share our gospel story with others.