Pursuit of Unity Week 2: Unity in Christ Devotional Day 4: Finding Our Purpose

Pursuit of Unity Week 2: Unity in Christ Devotional Day 4: Finding Our Purpose

There is an inspirational story that encapsulates the message we are sending young people regarding finding your purpose in life.  It reads like this: 

A frustrated young man went to see the wise man in his village.

“I don’t know what to do with my life.  How do I find my purpose?” the young man asked.

“Follow me,” said the old man.

Silently, they trudged together to a far away river where they found dozens of prospectors panning for gold.

“There are three types of prospectors here,” the sage said.

“What do you mean?” the young man inquired.

“There are those who strike gold straight away.  Excited, they take their plunder, cash it in and live comfortably for the rest of their lives.  Then there are those who pan for years.  They know that there is gold here and they have seen others strike it rich, so they persist until they too find the gold that they’ve been searching for.”

“What about the third type?” asked the young man.

“They are the individuals who get frustrated that they haven’t found what they are looking for, so after a day, a week or a year or more, they give up, walk away and never find gold.”

Slightly confused, the young man asked, “What has this got to do with finding my purpose?”

“Aah yes, the age-old question.” the old man smiled and looked his companion in the eye.  “There are those in life who look for their purpose and seem to find it almost immediately.  From a young age they have a clear sense of purpose and pursue their dreams with energy and enthusiasm.  Some others have to look a bit harder, perhaps for many years, but if they persist and keep looking, they will find something to live for.  Finally, there are those who want to know their purpose, but they become frustrated with the search and give up too soon, returning to a life of meaningless wandering.”

“Can everyone find their purpose?”

“Is there gold in the river?”  the wise man responded.

“So, how do I find my own purpose?”

“Keep looking.”

“But what if I want to find it quicker?”

“Son, there are no guarantees that you will be able to find it quickly, the only guarantee is that if you give up and stop looking for it, you’ll never find it.”

The young man looked despondent, feeling that he had wasted his time with the old man.

He felt a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “I can sense your frustration, but let me assure you, if you can find your true calling in life, you will live with passion, make the world a better place, be richer than you could imagine and feel as though the very face of God Himself is smiling upon you.  That may happen next week, next year or in the years ahead, but the search will be worth it and your life will never be the same again.  So for now, your purpose is to find your purpose.”

“Thanks.”

“Oh, and there’s one other thing that I forgot to mention.”

“What’s that?”

“Just as those men and women need to get down to the river with a pan to find their gold, so we need to remain active to find our purposes, we don’t find it sitting around at home doing nothing.”

It was getting late, so the two men turned for home and began their long walk back to the village.

As they walked, the young man was deep in thought about what he had just learned, and the wise man smiled to himself, knowing that conversations like this were an important part of living his own purpose.”  (Author Unknown)

While on the surface this seems like a touching tale, it can mislead people into thinking their purpose in life is based upon what they do rather than who they are. Unfortunately, this type of thinking featured in the story above is what has driven so many young people to pay more than the price of a house for an education that still does not fulfill.  Imagine listening to all this sage advice from the world, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of borrowed money to learn a job that everyone says should fulfill you only to graduate with two lifetimes worth of debt, doing an occupation that makes you feel more trapped than purposeful.  This is the reality for so many of our young people coming out of school.  I recall one day my dad telling me when he went to college he paid a couple hundred dollars for a class so it was feasible to work a job to pay for school.  The cost of higher education has skyrocketed since then to the point that college students will pay a few thousand for one course versus a few hundred.  Add this up and it is easy to see how many graduate today with crippling debt even while working a job at the same time.  All in the name of finding purpose.  

Perhaps the story above should have a different focus than the harder you work and the more you do the more gold you find and the more fulfilled you will be.  Those who pan everyday for gold searching for that elusive purpose yet consistently come up empty will potentially face depression and shame because they just can’t measure up.  This is the danger of tying purpose so closely to what you do.

What if the above story was changed to make the river representative of God, where there is something waiting for you to discover each and every day.  Afterall, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4 ESV).  The psalmist talks about a gently flowing stream that is representing Jehovah’s provision, and blessing to the land.  This would carry a very different connotation and meaning indeed. 

The reality is our purpose is not defined by the pressure of finding that one job and if you aren’t able to succeed at that, then you are left living a life where you believe you somehow missed it.  The Lord isn’t about secret pathways, and hard to find clues.  Our Father delights in giving good gifts to his children (See Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:11-13; James 1:17) and knows that satisfaction comes in the purpose our Lord highlights for us.  Our purpose then is not evaluated based upon how well we do something but is based upon our living for Him.  The book of Colossians encourages us, 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17 ESV).  

Remember Jesus’ prayer from John 17, “21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:21-23 ESV).  We are to be in unity with Christ so that the world might believe that the Father sent the son and that the world may know of the Father’s love for the world. 

So whether you are a doctor, or a carpenter, a plumber, roofer, nurse, psychiatrist, police officer, or shoe salesman, you are called to represent Jesus in such a way that the world might see firsthand through you, the love the Father has for them. This is the highest purpose we can hope to fulfill through our unity with Christ. 

Questions for prayer and reflection: 

1.) How am I defining my purpose? (Be honest)  Where do I need to adjust my thinking in order to align with how the Father defines my purpose?

2.) Where do I need to grow in living out this idea of purpose being how we represent God versus doing a job? Am I fully trusting in the Lord’s provision in accomplishing this?

3.) What are some tangible ways Jesus is calling me to display His love to others ? (I.e. volunteering for an outreach event, serving a neighbor,  participating in a mission’s trip, etc) 

Take a moment to pray over the answers to these questions.  Are there any areas you need to release in prayer to the Lord that you have felt as though you have fallen short in living in unity with Christ? The amazing thing is Jesus is ready to take that burden you have been carrying. Choose to walk in that freedom today. 

For further reading: Jeremiah 29:11-13; Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:5-13; John 17; Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17; James 1:17

Pursuit of Unity Week 2: Unity in Christ Devotional Day 3: The difference the cross makes

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. – Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV 

The American Civil War was said to pit neighbor against neighbor, friend versus friend, and brother against brother.  It is estimated this conflict caused 720,000 soldiers to lose their lives along with an undetermined amount of civilians.  It remains one of the bloodiest wars of American history and up until the Vietnam War it had accounted for more deaths than all the wars combined.  Apart from Christ, our hearts give into sin.  It is amazing how quickly we can turn on one another just based upon an ideology, view-point, political framework, or opinions.  It seems with each war comes greater methods at destroying one another. There is only one who has the power to bring an end to this destruction.  Prior to Christ, we were enemies of God as well as aliens and strangers.  The cross secured for us citizenship in the kingdom of God and also brought us into peace and unity.  It is only through Christ that we find resolution.  Man separates, God unites.  Man tears down, God rebuilds.  Man tries to be independent and self-sufficient, while God remains sufficient for all things.  Man places obstacles such as walls in place, where God breaks down barriers.  Notice that sin distorts reality, builds obstacles between us and God as well as between us and our fellow man.  Notice 1 John 3, 1Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.   

The Lord went to the cross securing not just unity in Him but also peace, and reconciliation. With one action of sacrifice, the Lord removed all barriers that man uses to bring about disunity.  Instead of two men, the circumcised and uncircumcised, Jesus made it so that there is only one. It is through our relationship with Jesus that keeps us in right relationship with God and with our fellow man.  We are to follow the example of Jesus by laying our lives down for our brothers and sisters. We are to lay aside our selfish desires, needs, wants, for the purpose of putting others first.   

When you examine this closely it is hard to deny the difference the cross makes in securing unity. After all the cross made it possible for us to become united with all believers, to have a home in the kingdom of God, and to be reconciled to the Lord and all men. The cross has the power to reverse the curse of sin that produces so much hate and disunity in out hearts and points us to the One who is the creator and sustainer of unity, Jesus.

Questions for Prayerful Consideration or Reflection:  

  1.  Are there any walls between you and God that you constructed that are prohibiting you from hearing from the Lord clearly?  Are there any “walls” constructed to keep others from getting to close to you?  What is needed for you to break these walls?  
  2. Is there anger in your heart toward any other brother or sister?  Pray right now for God to reveal this as well as pray for an opportunity to reconcile.  
  3. Reflect on the difference the cross has made in your life.  Think about where you might be had Christ not sacrificed himself.  Thank God for the unity Christ secured for us through His death.   

For further reading: Matthew 5:21-26, 43-48; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 John 3:11-18 

Pursuit of Unity Week 2: Unity in Christ Devotional Day 2: doing the “work” of unity.

I am always amazed at artisans and craftsman, particularly woodworkers.  It amazes me how a table top could be pieced together with multiple planks of wood, yet the finished product looks seamless as though it were one big section of the same tree.  Hours of planing, sanding, gluing leading to more planing, sanding, and gluing of the wood to turn it into the finished product that then goes through layers of staining and waxing to create a piece that is completely one. To go from lumber to table is quite a process that takes time, effort, and focus to complete.  When I think of unity, I think of that finished table in that unity is that seamless accord, or oneness.  It is hard to tell where one piece of wood ends and the other begins.  This is the picture of unity that encapsulates the Trinity.  Jesus prays in John 17 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:21-23 ESV). Do you see that oneness, that seamless organization of the complete Trinity? 

While my wife symbolically became “one flesh” when we said “I do,” it took a lot of work to bring that to fruition.  It took time and effort of active communication to get to that place of deep oneness.  Perhaps one of the reasons many marriages fail is they stop pursuing oneness, or unity with their spouse.  No doubt it takes effort, and a willingness to put in time to pursue our relationship with the Lord. We have to be intentional in our pursuit to accomplish this oneness that Jesus prayed for.  It won’t just happen overnight.  Just like I have to daily release my desires, plans, and time to serve my wife in order to maintain that unity, I have to give my time, my energy, my focus to pursuing y relationship with the Lord if I want what Jesus prays for in John 17.

1 John 2:15-17 reads, 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (ESV). When our heart loves something, it is going to focus on that one thing.  Growing up, I loved playing the game of baseball. I would do special workouts to build up my pitching arm, I would study the game, and would practice constantly because I loved it. It became a pursuit. As I got older, I found other interest and playing the game of baseball was no longer important to me.  When we don’t devote the time, effort, practice to that pursuit, we find something else to fill the void. When we use all of our resources to pursue the flesh, we are living in disunity with the Father and live like that double-minded man (James 1:8).  We have to decide what is more important in our lives.

Paul pleads with us, I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).  We are to become a sacrifice, an offering to the Lord.  A transforming mind pursues that which will continue to help it heal and grow.  It is increasingly difficult to utilize discernment if you are not active in the relationship.  If we are not praying, reading the Word, studying, fellowshipping with other believers, or serving the Lord, we will not have unity with the Lord. The Spiritual disciplines exist not for us to just knock items off our to-do list, but to provide building blocks in order to develop our unity with God.

Consider taking some time to reflect with the Lord.  What ways have you fallen short in your pursuit of unity with the Lord?  Are there tasks you are doing or not doing that are causing you to drift from God.  Ask forgiveness for those times you fell (if you haven’t already) then start reading God’s Word in order to develop the unity that Jesus prayed about.  Talk to a friend about your commitment to grow in your intimacy and unity with God for the purpose of having accountability and prayer.  How might your life look different if you began using your energy and resources to pursue unity with God.

Pursuit of Unity Week 2: Unity in Christ Devotional Day 1: Unity through Prayer

Pursuit of Unity Week 2: Unity in Christ Devotional Day 1:  Unity through Prayer

There is something about prayer that connects us.  I remember the first few times Jenn and I began praying together.  I felt intimately connected to her and in listening to how she prayed, was probably one of the many attributes that made me fall in love with her.  Knowing that my wife prays for me consistently refreshes my soul and makes me feel tied with her at a much deeper level.  It is as though we are drawn into greater unity as a couple through prayer.  When we are not in agreement over a job opportunity, or a parenting action, or even where to spend a vacation, we pray ourselves into unity, meaning we pray to the Lord to show us and we don’t proceed until there is unity.  How about you?  Do you have that type of relationship with your spouse, a close friend, a mentor in the sense that when you pray together, you feel inspired, uplifted, encouraged, etc?  There is something about prayer that brings unity. 

Did you know that not only did Jesus pray for you in His prayer in John 17 (see verse 20), but he continues to pray for us?  1 John 2:1 tells us that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father.  When I think of an advocate, I think of someone who stands in the gap for another, speaking for their best interest.  In my work both as a Behavioral Health Technician and as a counselor, there have been moments I had to step in to advocate for patients and clients in scenarios where I felt as though their best interests were not being pursued.  It may have been a situation where the patient was being unsafe and needed to be hospitalized, or perhaps a scenario where they were not getting the correct therapeutic interventions to help them have the greatest opportunity for success, so I would have to advocate for different modes of treatment.  It brings great comfort to me knowing that Jesus is our advocate.  No matter what we walk through He is always backing us.  Who better to have in our corner than Jesus?!

I love what Paul writers in Romans 8: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

A large part of what makes us more than conquerors is vs 34.  Our Advocate, Jesus, is praying for us.  The writer of Hebrews confirms this saying, 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25 ESV).  Jesus lives to pray for us.  This is a huge focus for the Son of God.  Does this not make you feel even closer to Jesus, knowing that He has prayed, is praying, and will continue to pray for us?

No wonder we are taught to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and admonished, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6 ESV).  Jesus wants us to send our request to Him so that he can pray as well.   Not only is Jesus actively involved in advocating and interceding for us but the Trinity is in unison when it comes to our prayers.  We are submitting our requests to the Father but there are times when we are experiencing such heaviness in our lives that we just are not sure what to say.  Back to Romans 8 where Paul teaches, 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27 ESV).  The Holy Spirit is praying for us when we can’t find the words.  Notice too, it is in accordance with God’s will.  It is the Father’s intention that we should be prayed for.  Our Lord commands that we are interceded for by the Holy Spirit.

No wonder Satan is always attacking our prayer life as believers because he understands God’s will to have us prayed for by Jesus and the Holy Spirit because when we are entering in we are building deeper intimacy and unity with the Lord.  This is the last thing the enemy wants.  So stand firm in your prayer time by not allowing the enemy to disrupt the unity you are having with the Lord through prayer.

Making it Practical:

I remember years ago driving Jenn to Augusta airport from our home in Columbia, SC.  She was heading out to serve a friend who had just had a baby.  On the drive home I heard a guy on a Christian radio program talking about his dad’s morning habit.  His dad would wake up, turn on the coffee, pour himself a cup, walk to his chair in the corner of the living room where he would open up his Bible to start his quiet time and prayer time with the Lord.  This serves a prime example as to the responsibility we have as parents to show them what a quiet time and prayer time is. The fact that this man was so impacted by his dad’s morning prayer routine was incredible. 

Do you have a regular quiet time with the Lord?

The best way to maintain unity and consistency in any relationship is through communication. Prayer and reading the Word is the way we are able to communicate with God.  Remember this is a relationship. Our Father does not expect perfection but He loves consistency. 

I know people who write their quiet time in their calendars under appointments or “do not disturb” because they do not want anything else encroaching on their time with Jesus.

Are you creating space in your home for prayer?

One of the newscasters when we lived in South Carolina did a segment about her prayer room in her house.  A prayer room, in the house of a news reporter was being reported on in the evening news of the local NBC affiliate.  How cool is that?! Perhaps you will find consistency in your prayer life by setting aside a place in your house such as a corner chair used for reading, or a special closet you can transform into a prayer room.  If you don’t have this already, consider developing this so that you can meet with God on a more regular basis.  Consider bringing in candles or emblems that will direct your attention to God.

If you are struggling to remain consistent, consider using prompts.

On my phone I have two Bible reading apps that have various plans I can utilize to keep a steady diet of the Word.  This is in addition to just having the Bible in an app.  One of these apps also has the capability for me to listen to Scripture.  Another one has centralized all of my podcasts into one place.  Many of the podcasts, and one of the Bible reading apps supplies prayer prompts as well so that I am able to apply the devotional to my prayer life. In addition I also utilize a journal for Scripture meditation and a prayer journal to continually pray for various needs. I realize this may seem overwhelming to some of you so I am not advocating you do this.  Having this many options is what speaks to my spiritual ADHD, but what I am saying is do something.  Find a tool or resource that works for you to get you into the Word and praying to develop that intimacy and unity with the Lord. There are so many options out there which is one positive use of technology. Consider telling a friend so that they can ask you about your progress but also that they might encourage you in your endeavor.  Various ministries have requested prayer through the years. One tool I find valuable is a simple alarm.  I will set alarms on my phone to go off at times where I need to pray for a friend or ministry somewhere else in the world.  When people ask for prayer for appointments, I will not only pray for them in that moment that they ask, but I will set my alarm for the date and time of the appointment so that I can be sure to be praying for them during that time as well. The point is there are all types of prompts available to us to help us maintain a healthy prayer life. What are those tools that have helped with your prayer life?

Knowing that the Father loves us so much that He ordains it that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are actively praying for us brings me such joy.  It makes me feel so much more connected to Him and eager to keep communicating with Him.  Take a moment before you begin praying to thank Him for orchestrating prayer in this fashion.  Perhaps it will sound like this: 

Dear Lord, thank you for loving me so much that you desire to have communication between us.  Help me not to take this for granted but to continually participate in consistent prayer times with you.  Thank you that you ordain Jesus and Holy Spirit to be active in praying for us.  May I continue to seek you in deep, meaningful ways, through prayer in order to be more in sync, working in unity with you.  In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

For Further Reading: John 17; Romans 8; Philippians 4:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Hebrews 7:25; James 5:13-18; 1 John 2:1-2

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self Devotional Day 5- Aligning with God’s Vision for You

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self Devotional Day 5- Aligning with God’s Vision for You

One of my favorite seasons is Spring as I am able to spring into action in planting my garden.  Perhaps preparing the soil for planting is the adult version of playing in the dirt.  I have often been sidetracked or maybe somewhat carried away while tilling my rows for the garden.  It seems when I am looking down in forming the rows they have a tendency to be crooked.  If I want a straight row I need to be looking up toward the point I want my row to end.  This will ensure that I have a straight row.  This is very similar to our journey with Jesus. If we aren’t aligning ourselves with His vision, then we can feel incomplete, dissatisfied, or wind up cynical or maybe even a bit jaded. When we look down focusing on our present circumstance instead of keeping our eyes on Jesus, we can veer off the path He is leading us.  Remember the psalmist tells us that the Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path which means we may not be able to see the whole picture. Our role is simply to trust the Good Shepherd in His leading. 

Remember Sunday’s message in which part of aligning with God’s vision for us means we submit to James’ teaching, 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:18 ESV).  Another way to read this would be that God, the Father, willed us through Jesus, who is the very embodiment of the truth, to be set apart holy examples and sacrifices representing Jesus to the world around us.  If you are a believer in Jesus, you are an elite member chosen to be the best ambassador of the Good News Gospel to your neighbors, friends, coworkers, strangers, and of course to your family.  This is the vision God has for each of us. You could classify this as the what.

So now let’s move on to the how.

  1. How am I called to live out this vision in my personal life?

Back when I was a student in Bible college, I had to develop a personal vision statement that was 20 words or less but encompassed what I believed God was calling me to.  This personal vision statement may include spiritual gifts, specific people groups you are called to minister to, and may even be centered around a certain Biblical principle.  An example of this might be “Discipling men on the path to freedom from addiction so that they may experience life to the fullest.”

  1. What is God’s vision for our marriage?

I remember when Jenn and I were walking through premarital counseling prior to our wedding.  One of the assignments we had to complete was developing a vision for our marriage.  How were we called as a couple to represent the kingdom of God to others?  Similar to the personal vision, this one may include your combination of spiritual gifts, perhaps a certain people group you are feeling called to serve, or perhaps a Scriptural principle or verse. An example of this could be “Utilizing the gifts of hospitality, and teaching we are called to disciple and serve believers in discovering then walking in their spiritual gifts.”

  1. How are we called to walk this vision out as a family?

As parents we are charged with stewarding our children as we shepherd them toward the destiny that our Father is leading them into.  Proverbs 22:6 encourages us to train a child in the way they should go.  Most of us focus on the discipline aspect of correcting bad behavior, but this verse also includes training in the gifts, talents, and abilities that our Creator has instilled in the hearts of our children.  We can all agree it is very challenging raising children in today’s culture but one of the tools we have as believers is our vision to align our child rearing with the teachings of Jesus.  A family vision can aid in keeping you on track in reaching your goals.  Simply put, if it doesn’t align with your family’s vision then you don’t do it. As with the personal and married vision, the family vision would include spiritual gifts, Scriptural principles, and even a certain community or people group you feel called to serve.  A possible family vision statement might look like the following, “We are called to serve the community of Akron through practically teaching and discipling our children to develop and practice their spiritual gifts, skills, talents, and abilities to worship, honor, proclaim, and glorify the name of Jesus.”

For Reflection: 

  1. Do you believe that you are an elite, set apart firstfruit?  If not, what is holding you back from accepting this truth? Take time to reflect on this with Holy Spirit.  Pray through this, quieting your mind so you can hear clearly, then lay this down at the feet of Jesus exchanging the lie you were believing for His truth. 
  2. Consider developing a vision statement.  What elements would it include?  If you already have one, evaluate how you are accomplishing it. What are the benefits to living according to a vision statement?

For further Reading: James 1:1-18; Psalm 23; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 3:5-6; Proverbs 22:6; Proverbs 29:18; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; John 10:11-18; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 Peter 2:15

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self Devotional Day 4: What does it mean to fully rely on God?

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self : What does it mean to fully rely on God?

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, really ponder the question, am I relying on God for everything?  What does that really look like?  How am I supposed to feel every day I put socks on, button up my shirts, zip up my pants?  Should I be thanking God for providing the finances that allowed me to purchase those items so that I can be clothed appropriately?  Each day we have instilled the habit into our children to pray at every meal for what the Lord has provided.  Sometimes I wonder if I am seriously thanking my God or am I just going through the motions.  Has grace offered at meals just become a rote reaction or am I meaning each word as I thank God for the food on our table.  After all I am living a very different experience from those brothers and sisters in impoverished nations who rely so much on prayer to supply what they need. As Christian author Philip Yancey so aptly observes, “In my travels I have noticed that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer and more time actually praying. The wealthy rely on talent and resources to solve immediate problems, and insurance policies and retirement plans to secure the future.  We can hardly pray with sincerity, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ when the pantry is stocked with a month’s supply of provisions” (from Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?)  So here we are back to the question posed before us, What does it look like to fully rely on God? 

If you woke this morning and are reading this, congratulations as you have earned another spin around  Earth’s axis.  I think the reality is we have truly experienced the exceeding abundant blessings of God that it can be so very easy to take things for granted.  I remember one of my professors humbly reporting to our class one day how he begins each morning from his bed.  While laying down he thrusts his hands in the air as he utters a thank you to God for granting him another day and filling his lungs with breath. All of this he does each day with sincerity before any of his feet even hit the floor.  Have you thanked our Father for supplying the very life -giving element of oxygen that is supplying the capacity for you to breathe?  Without it we really would be in trouble.  This year in battling a virus that attacks a person’s ability to breathe, we should definitely thank God for his protection and His providing the very breath that is critical to our life.  Remember how Luke the writer of Acts notes in chapter 17, : “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28 ESV). 

Not to mention the Creator God has positioned us on this planet just close enough to the sun so as not to burn nor farther away that we would freeze.  Imagine that. Any farther away and we would be icicles yet any closer, we would be crispier than Kentucky fried. When was the last time you marveled at the incredible power of our God in his placing earth in just the correct orbit around the sun? 

I suppose, to me relying on God really begins with the recognition that we can get no where without Him.  This can be challenging in our world of direct deposit and automation.  Practically everything we do can be placed almost on autopilot.  My bills are paid automatically so I am not tangibly exchanging money which can make it challenging to acknowledge my provider is not my employer but really is the Lord.  Jenn and I have had opportunities to live in seasons of lack (for lack of a better word) and in seasons of plenty which I am sure you can relate to.  I suppose the question before us is do we rely on God any less in times of plenty as we did in those seasons of want, or of having less? Perhaps it is a situation where the Lord needs to get us to that desperate place where we recognize that God is always supplying his children.  After all, as James reminds us, 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

May we truly recognize our need to fully rely on God on a daily basis. Perhaps a good exercise for us all today is to take a moment and truly thank God for the gift of another day. 

I offer this prayer.  Please feel free to change it to fit your words as well as express your feelings and thoughts to our Heavenly Father this morning. Consider writing your own prayer in a journal or in your Bible as a reminder to rely on Him always.

Dear Lord, as I sit here this morning I am reminded of all the ways you have provided for me.  Thank you for another day.  May I devote this day and each day that you give me to being more aware of the many ways you have provided and how I have needed to rely on you. Forgive me for how I have taken measures into my own hands as I attempted to find a natural solution to a spiritual problem. Forgive me for trying to use the ways of man rather than seeking more of you.  Help me to recognize your hand in my life, and may I always have a thankful heart and attitude toward your tremendous mercy, grace, and generosity towards me. Thank you for loving me, and for never forsaking me. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

For Further Reading: James 1:1-18; Psalm 18:2; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 26:4, 41:10-13; Jeremiah 17:7; Matthew 6:25-34; Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:19; Ephesians 3:14-21; Colossians 1:15-17

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self Devotional Day 3

I’m always amazed at the sheer power that can be seen in nature. I remember when I was a kid and we were in the middle of a wicked thunderstorm. The wind was fiercely blowing. I watched as it took a tall sturdy oak and seemingly bend it as though it were a twig. I recall the awestruck moment that I thought for sure there is no way this tree is going to make it through this amazing storm. However, in the morning the tree remained as tall and strong as ever.

As I think on this memory I’m reminded what Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-7, “6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (ESV).

In order to preserve an inner unity we are needing to stay rooted in Jesus. These roots are not surface roots that would cause a collapse at the first occurrence of a slight breeze, but are deep tap roots that are spread out beneath the surface stabilizing the tree. This is the life we have in Christ. He stabilizes us through the storms of life.

Paul continues in the verse that follows, “8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (ESV).

Paul makes the connection that if we are not remaining firmly connected to Christ then we may fall victim to believing a philosophy or view that is not from Jesus but rather from man. This will bring about the double mindedness James notes in James 1:8. There really is no in between. We are either firmly rooted in Christ or we are tethered to a philosophy or lifestyle that is not life-giving. Think of it more as an umbilical cord. Everything the baby needs to stay healthy in the womb is transferred from the mother through the umbilical cord. Everything we need to live comes through us remaining connected to Christ. If we are going to stay in unity with our Spiritual Self, then it is indeed imperative for us to keep up with the spiritual practices that keep us firmly rooted in Christ, so that when the storms of life rage, we remain steadfast and undaunted due to our deep roots in Jesus.

For reflection:

Have you been neglecting your basic tenants of your faith such as Bible reading or study, prayer, fasting, communion, and staying active in your local body?

What are some ways Holy Spirit is leading you in order to go deeper with Jesus?

Are there any changes you need to make in your life or schedule to ensure you are keeping up with these basic building blocks of your faith?
.
For further reading: James 1:1-18; Psalm 1; Psalm 119:11; John 15; Hebrews 10:19-25

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self Devotional Day 2: Letting Go of the Past

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self

Devotional Day 2: Letting Go of the Past

I remember that moment where I felt as though I had forever ruined my witness and testimony of the Lord’s work in my life.  I was in the Navy in the midst of our deployment when I decided to hang out with a new crowd during a port visit.  I had become quite inebriated to the point where my shipmates were ready to drop me off back at the boat and it was only 11am. I had a few of my shipmates approach me telling me they thought I was different, and how I was bad at representing Jesus. I was so ashamed of what I had done.  Fortunately our Faithful Lord provided insight that although I was a believer, I was not immune from making mistakes.  I am only human.

It is times like this in my Christian walk with Jesus that I resonate with the Apostle Paul’s writing in Romans 7, “15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15 ESV).

I have counseled so many individuals over the years who have the mindset that once you make a mistake you are no longer eligible to be used by God.  This of course can’t be further from the truth.  The man who wrote these words was involved with trying to bring an end to this new movement.  Yet, He became the greatest missionary perhaps the world has ever known.  Imagine if Paul had believed the lie that you can be disqualified from being used by Jesus.  We may not have the books of the New Testament chronicling Paul’s missionary journeys.

Take a look at your own life.  Perhaps what is keeping you unstable or in a double minded state is the fact you have not forgiven yourself for your past.  There is nothing the Lord won’t forgive short of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. God paid a heavy price to demonstrate his great love for us. Don’t count yourself out from being used b God.

Take a moment to inventory those past hurts, habits, hang-ups, or sins that you feel you have not been forgiven for. Write them down.  Now, invite Holy Spirit to help you release those to the Lord.  God can take the dirtiest, most unholy part of our lives and use it for His good and His Glory.  We all have a past that is in process of being redeemed.  Pray through these moments with God.  Consider having a friend, mentor, or pastor pray with you to be set free from the bondage of your past and watch how God is going to use you in powerful ways for his kingdom.

Don’t let the enemy rob your future with God because of your past that the Lord forgave you for at the cross. Send a message to the enemy that you trust more in the forgiveness of Jesus then you do in the lies he is trying to make you believe.

For further reading:  James 1:1-18; Psalm 103:6-13; 1 John 1:5-10; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 5:8-11;

Pursuit of Unity Week 1: Unity with our Spiritual Self

DEVOTIONAL DAY 1: EVALUATING OUR HEART CONDITION

Well, spring has officially sprung and so I seem to find myself fighting a battle.  In one of my flower beds I planted a holly bush last fall that was quickly devoured by some very hungry vegetarian animal. My guess is rabbits, but I can’t be certain.  On the one side of my driveway sits blueberry bushes.  It seems that as fast as this one particular bush can produce leaves, they are nibbled away.  I never know how many will be left when I pull in.  Each time I pass my holly bush I am reminded of the carnage of the last Fall. I went to replace it this Spring only to find that it was still green as it continues to try to push new growth.  I keep telling myself that I need to fertilize it as well as protect it with wire or netting of some sort.  Then another few days pass by. My attention is diverted to my blueberry bushes as I now see more leaves have fallen prey to that strict vegetarian chowing down on my bush. I say to myself how much I need to protect that bush with some wire or fencing.  Then another week goes by with nothing done. 

Isn’t this a perfect picture of the spiritual battle we are facing each and every day?  The enemy is advancing attempting to take up positions in our hearts and if we are not diligent we may be purposely giving up ground.  How many times have you passed by that devotional book on the shelf saying, “That would be something new for my quiet times that I should start reading.” Is the reminder from your Bible app on your phone still dinging, or have you silenced it so you don’t have to be prompted to listen?  When was the last time you enjoyed the spiritual challenge from your favorite podcast or sermon? 

Jesus admonishes the Pharisees in Matthew 15 when they attempt to teach traditions as though it is the doctrine of God.  Our Lord quotes Isaiah saying,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (John 15:8-9 ESV)

Part of what separates us from God is the hypocrisy of saying we want to follow Him with our lips yet do nothing to change our hearts.  This can create a double mindedness that James talks about in James 1:8, which makes us unstable. 

Jesus speaks to the importance of our heart further in John 15, “18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person”  (John 15:18-20a ESV).

Our hearts are the birthplace of either good or evil.  Remember the instruction of Proverbs 4,
23 
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet;
    then all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
    turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:23-27 ESV)

Keep your heart, or some would say guard your heart.  We must be diligent with what goes in each and every day from morning to night. Are we nourishing our heart with truth from God, or lies from the world?  What entertainment are we allowing our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to receive?  Remember parents, we are the gatekeepers of our homes, and of the hearts of our children.

We are to put away those things that make us double minded and unstable.  The author of this proverb tells us that our gaze should be forward focused, not deviating from the path and we should ponder the path of our feet. When was the last time you actually stopped to think deeply about, consider, ponder that path you are taking in life making sure that it is where God wants you to go.  This world has plenty of distraction that can cause us to say, “Ill get to it another day.” Just like the nature of those bunnies attacking my plants, our sinful nature doesn’t take a day off.  Don’t let another day go by without listening to that podcast, reading that devotional, meditating on Scripture, studying that Christian living principle or topic, or asking that friend or mentor to pray for you.

For you to consider:

As we start this new series, are you willing to have a heart to heart with God? Perhaps start by inviting Holy Spirit in to measure the condition of your heart.

Are there any areas you fell a bit lax in keeping up? 

Are there habits in your life that have caused you to be unstable with a doublemindedness? 

What is one thing- a book, podcast, sermon, Scripture verse- that you could read, memorize, study, listen to that could put you on track for today with putting truth into your heart to take that step toward unity or oneness with the Holy Spirit? Don’t start tomorrow what God is calling you to do today!

Spend a few moments in prayer with the Lord regarding the condition of your heart. Ask for those honest answers as you assess where you need to begin to be living in unity with Him.

For further Reading or Study: James 1:1-18; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 4:23-27; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 6:19-24; Matthew 15:1-20; Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27

Dry Bones Revival Devotional Day 5- Am I Believing for a Supernatural Miracle?

The following is a devotional based upon a message preached by Pastor Chris Leiby at Oasis Fellowship on Sunday, April 25th, 2021. To listen to that message to better enhance this devotional experience please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8XbIFltPN0

Or you can watch it on the Oasis Fellowship Facebook Page here: https://www.facebook.com/OasisFellowshipAkron

Dry Bones Revival Devotional Day 5: Am I believing for a Supernatural Miracle?

The use of a green screen was first introduced in 1940 by Larry Butler who was able to show a genie escaping a bottle in the film Thief of Bagdad.  The technology has greatly improved since then causing movie watchers everywhere to witness limitless special effects that keep us on the edge of our seats.  It can be challenging for us to appreciate the reality of the miracles that appear in Scripture when our dopamine levels are increased with every modern Hollywood blockbuster pushing the boundaries of special effects.  The reality is that at the end of the day, no matter how real the action on the screen may seem, it is but a counterfeit, a façade that is the opposite of reality.  

Recently I heard a segment while listening to the radio where a magician tried to recreate the miracles of the Bible.  While trying to walk on water as Jesus did, the magician concluded that it would take too many modern technological approaches to actually accomplish this, so he concluded that these miracles had to be genuinely real.  This led to this young man coming to faith in Christ.  Just like the green screen, any attempt at using modern technological advances to recreate the reality of the move of God’s power pales in comparison.  

The same God that spoke the world into existence, who parted seas, dropped manna from heaven, multiplied food for his prophets, made the sun stand still, caused fire to drop from the sky, and made the dry bones come back to life, still moves today.  And to think the aforementioned miracles were just a few from the Old Testament alone.  Let us not forget the miracles of Jesus of turning the water into wine, calming the stormy sea, walking on water, healing the sick, restoring the lame to walking, causing the blind to see, raising the dead, and being resurrected.  Did you ever stop and admire the sheer magnitude of the power of God? 

Ezekiel 37 tells the story of the Prophet Ezekiel being led to a valley that is full of dry bones, bones that were very dry.  In a span of 14 verses that took just a few moments in real time, these bones that the flesh had fallen off from decomposing and left to be bleached by the sun, the Lord put skin back on the bones, caused breath to enter them, and formed them back into “an exceedingly great army” (37:10).  The stark reality is we serve a Supernatural God who is not held within the limits of our natural world.  This is better than any green screen, magic, or special effect, because this is real. There is no timeline for the move of God.  If he took just a few minutes to bring very dry bones back to life, He can supernaturally move to bring about a miracle to your natural problem.  Ask yourself this question: Am I believing for a supernatural miracle?  

We can explain away the reasonings we have for not pursuing or praying for these miracles.  It is possible we are so wrapped up with natural or worldly solutions to our trials and issues that we don’t think about asking for the miraculous to happen.  Perhaps we think God has more important things to do.  Our Father loves us very much and desires to do what will give Him the most glory while supplying the most good to us. Let us not forget that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 ESV) and 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11 ESV).  Are you inviting the Lord to move in supernatural ways in your life?  

Through the cross and resurrection, Our Father demonstrated the lengths he is willing to go through to reconcile our relationship with Him.  He provides supernatural answers to our worldly problems.  Do we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to receive the supernatural?  These supernatural miracles cannot be mimicked, manufactured, conjured up, or recreated through natural means. 

When Thomas Jefferson developed his version of the Bible he placed more emphasis on man by cutting out all of the miracles of God.  The problem with this is that it opposes a key value from the Word of God which Paul teaches us, “3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (2 Corinthians 2:3-5 ESV).  Just like ships were designed and built to go into the open ocean, not remain tied up to the dock, our faith is not meant to be built upon the foundation of just wisdom but on the power of God to move in supernatural ways. 

Consider the following for prayer and reflection:

1.) Do I believe in the supernatural power of God to continue to produce miracles in my life?  If your answer is uncertain, pray to the Father for fresh faith to believe in His power to move in this way.

2).  Have I ever knowingly or unknowingly limited God or placed Him in a box due to my lack of understanding, or lack of faith?  If so, and you feel the matter is unresolved between you and the Lord, ask Him to forgive you for your lack of faith in this matter, and pray for a deepening faith in this area. 

3.)  Is there an area in your life where you need to press in for God to move in a supernatural way?  Whether that is healing, provision, or a breaking of a negative habit or lifestyle, continue to pray and ask God to move in this way. Consider telling an accountability partner or home group leader so that they can be agreeing in prayer together with you in this matter. (See James 5:13-18)

For Further Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Matthew7:7-11; 2 Corinthians 2:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-20; James 1:17