Are You Straining Toward Jesus?

Philippians 3:13-14
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


The Apostle Paul was a very “righteous” man. Before finding Jesus, he really had his act together. Paul was successful, famous, and important. He was the standard setter in the Jewish community; the benchmark of religious performance. Then he met Jesus and realized that he had it all wrong. Once he understood who Jesus was, he wanted a relationship with Him more than any worldly success or personal achievement.

Paul wrote: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

At first, Paul measured his personal worth and value in how “good” he could be. Jesus showed him that he had actually been worshiping his own moral superiority instead of God. Truth be told, I think Paul liked being better than everyone else and when he final got a glimpse of his arrogance in light of Jesus’ perfection, his personal “goodness” looked like garbage to him.

Today’s passage builds on that idea where Paul then says, instead of focusing on his own moral perfection, now he is straining towards the relationship he has with Jesus. He’s forsaking the past, no matter what it looks like and leaning into his Savior. His new goal is to recklessly follow Jesus and rest in His righteousness, no matter the costs. And it would cost Paul a lot to follow Jesus, even his own life.

19-Devo-12.31Thought of the day: As we head into the New Year, here is a tough question to consider: What are you holding onto that is preventing you from straining towards Jesus? What is getting in the way of you pursuing Him as the source of ultimate fulfillment in your life? Is it a relationship, money, your career? Maybe it’s a hurt, habit, or hang up. Like Paul, what do you need to prune from your life so that you might gain Christ more fully? Take action today; You can’t change everything overnight, but pick one BIG thing that gets in the way, offer it to God and give it up. Ask God to fill your heart and be your satisfaction in life. Starting in 2019, let’s strain toward our relationship with Jesus with fervency and commitment.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help me to see clearly the idols that I set up and worship in place of You. Help me to see what needs to be pruned and give me the courage to choose You every day. Lead my life and, like Paul, may I see your glory as I strain after You. Amen.

Walk in Obedience and Humility

Philippians 2:5-11
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


If you’ve spent any amount of time in church or around its people, you know Christmas has little to do with Santa and reindeer and much to do with Jesus’ birth. And yet to fully appreciate and celebrate the birth of a Savior we need to have an understanding of who He is.

As Paul writes to the people of Philippi in this passage, he’s encouraging believers to model their behavior and attitudes after that of Jesus. He goes on to describe the humble nature of our Messiah. He is God, and yet he came to serve. He is perfect, and yet he endured the ultimate punishment.

As this Christmas season comes to a close and we’ve celebrated the birth of Jesus, let’s also consider the life and death of Jesus. He lived the most perfect and humble life, and then died a death he did not deserve, purely out of obedience to the Father, and love for sinners like you and me.

ChristMESS-12-28Thought of the day: As we dwell on the Jesus’ humility, there may be areas in our own lives where we need to “empty ourselves” or “take the form of a servant.” Looking at the extreme measure of obedience Jesus displayed in his willingness to go to the cross, are there any areas in your life where God is asking you to follow him?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us the gift of Jesus. God, give me the courage to walk in obedience and humility the way Jesus did. Amen.

The Power of the Word

John 1:1-5, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Word.

It’s a new slang term. Urban Dictionary says it means: ‘I agree,’ or ‘well said.’

For those of us who are a little old school, word is just a component of speech. In this passage, the Word is powerful.

In human lives, the Word is most powerful when it is etched into the heart. The following story is about words, and the Word.

A wise third grade Sunday School teacher tells a classroom of eight-year-olds to memorize the first 14 verses of the chapter of John; one verse every week. There is a prize—a shiny new Bible—for the first to complete the task.

Everyone in the group starts strong! Before the first class was finished, Shannon, the assistant pastor’s daughter, smiles broadly as she leads everyone in unison: “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Then life happened. Word.

Rhonda, a child being raised by a single mom, is dropped off for Sunday School sporadically. She memorized the first verse, but her mom caught a cold and they missed a couple of Sundays so by the next time she came, there wasn’t time to catch up.

Max stutters when he recites the verses and the other kids giggle. He is too embarrassed to finish.

Megan, the one in the glasses who always wears a perfect ponytail, finishes first and wins the Bible. Predictable.

About a half dozen kids finish the assignment and memorize all the verses. The Lord etched those words into their hearts to last a lifetime. But even the ones who did not finish, got bits and pieces of engraved on their hearts too. They were all winners.

Word.

The wise Sunday School teacher sent these little kids into the world knowing:

  • Jesus was the Word and the beginning of everything.
  • He was with God before anything was created.
  • Everything we see, touch, taste, feel, and know—and all the things we don’t know yet—are made by Him.
  • He possesses life and His life is the light of all of us—even the little kids in this classroom.
  • When we go to bed in the darkness and when bad things happen, His light shines so we don’t have to be afraid.
  • The Word was Jesus, and He came to earth to live not just with grown-ups—but with eight-year-old kids.
  • Because Jesus came, when troubles come, we will not be overcome by the darkness.

As these kids age, they are more prepared for troubled times at new stages of maturity. Their responses to trouble are more apt to be healthy resolutions based on the truth of God’s Word instead of spiraling into toxic reactionary shock.

Never underestimate the power of the Word etched onto the heart.

Word.

ChristMESS-12-27Thought of the day: Bless the volunteers with SV Kids. They are preparing children to know the Word of God and are changing the world in epic ways, one kid at a time. If you want to make an impact on the world, volunteer with SV Kids!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we bless the volunteers and employees who bless our kids, in Jesus’ name. We ask that You give them wisdom and understanding for the little hearts they are reaching. We pray that you give them supernatural insight into their circumstances and meet their needs where they are. We pray that all of the verses they memorize are etched on their hearts for their whole lives as a resource long into adulthood. In Jesus’ name, amen. Word.

Reflecting on the Blessings

Luke 2:15-20
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


The Christmas season can require a lot out of us. Holiday parties, shopping, hosting family, and decorating the house can fill the weeks leading up to it. After the hustle and bustle of going to a church service, having a meal, and opening presents, it’s all over. The morning after Christmas can sometimes feel a little bit like we’re going through a break up. So much of our energy and expectations were invested in creating incredible moments that we’d remember for a lifetime, but, in a snap, the countdown begins to next year… and the moments we worked so hard to create, can quickly fade away.

ChristMESS-12-26Mary’s life was radically changed from the moment Gabriel told her she would become pregnant with the Messiah. The months leading up to Jesus’s birth were filled with physical strain of pregnancy, the emotional strain of trying to explain it was a supernatural pregnancy, and culminated in an amazing moment that changed history forever. As soon as Jesus was born, He required the same attention and energy as any other young child. It could have been so easy for Mary to forget the story that had been written over the previous nine months. Verse 19 says that “she treasured all of these things.” It brings the mental image that, in a quiet moment, she paused to reflect on the amazing story that God was writing all around her.

In the quietness that sets in the day after Christmas, what things can you thank God for that have happened in this season and year?

Prayer: Thank You for all the great ways You’ve blessed me this year. Regardless of my circumstances, I’m grateful for your love and grace. Help me to have the discipline to slow down and remember who You are and all You’ve done for me. Amen.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Luke 2:8-14
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


One of the most famous scenes in a Christmas film comes from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Charlie Brown is very frustrated, and he shouts, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” And Linus answers “Sure Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He goes to the front of the stage and recites Luke 2:8-14. But is this just a cute part of a children’s cartoon or is there more to this story?

In announcing the birth of the long-promised Messiah, why telling shepherds? Shepherds were just above ‘tax collector’ on the Jewish “jobs people don’t like” scale. Imagine being one of those shepherds: You’re minding your own business, watching the sheep at night and then next thing you know you are right in the middle of a heavenly light show. Then an angelic being says “don’t be afraid.” They were terrified, but they listened to the message of the heavenly host.

Those shepherds had a choice. They could not believe what had just happened to them or they could believe and receive this heavenly message and share it with others. To the shepherds’ credit, they did go find the one the heavenly messenger told them about and they did share the Good News.

ChristMESS-12-25Thought of the day: Over 2,000 years later we have the same choice. Either to believe and receive this heavenly message and choose to share it with others, or to ignore it. What choice do you need to make? To receive the message or to share the message?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to receive Your message of “Good News” today. Help me to share Your message with others. That Jesus really is the reason for the season. In Jesus’ name, amen.

An Unglamorous Start

Luke 2:1-7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.


Our Savior was born into a messy world during a time full of slavery, idolatry, and focus on things like money, power, sex, and status.

Luke is the only disciple to record the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. He tells a brief, but powerful, account of the circumstances that surrounded Mary and Joseph as they obeyed and fulfilled their part in the greatest event known to man.

An unwed, young mother traveled between 80 and 90 miles on a donkey, into the hills to find no place for her to give birth. She went there because of the census, but as followers of Jesus we know it was for a far greater purpose. The choice was something along the lines of a barn or a cave. Because of the situation and the census, she most likely did what God had called her to do without family, friends, nurses, or doctors to help her bring a baby into the world. That’s right, she was mostly likely alone when she gave birth to our Savior. The scripture indicates that Joseph wasn’t even there when the time came.

Scared, in pain, and without help, she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths—which are strips of linen. Thirty-three years later, He would be wrapped up in strips of linen again.

Imagine how Joseph was feeling in this moment. There was a lot of gossip surrounding a virgin with child. Technically they weren’t married yet, but let’s just say he assumed the role of the husband as leader and provider. As the husband, he would have wanted the best for his pregnant wife and unborn baby. He had no money and no way to provide and had to haul Mary around on a donkey. She gave birth in an unglamorous location. That had to be hard on Joseph’s ego and pride.

They were at peace and carried out their part of God’s plan. God’s plan isn’t always comfortable. Mary and Joseph chose to trust and obey despite their own fears, feelings, desires, or preferences. Through their obedience, God is glorified and His peace is spread wherever the Christ child is received.

The Messiah and the promised Savior chose to be born in the messiest, least swanky, and loneliest place possible. He did that for a reason. He is brilliant and does anything and everything to meet us right where we are.

He started with humble beginnings as an example and model of His love and desire to be unified with us right in the middle of our messy and unglamorous lives.

The gift of Christmas is that we are still those people and He is still the humble yet powerful Savior that still saves.

ChristMESS-12-24Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for being born into our world and reminding us that You made a way to be with us. Help us to celebrate that. Help us to push through the circumstances of our messiness and to be obedient like Mary and Joseph. In Jesus’ name-Amen.

You Are the Salt and the Light

Matthew 5:13–16
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.


We’ve been given a really cool opportunity to be involved in the stories of those around us. Every interaction we have has the potential to change somebody else’s mood or day. What’s even greater is that, as Jesus followers, we also have the opportunity to be “salt and light” to those we encounter. That may include words or invitations, but this passage points that our attitude and actions are also crucially important in exposing others to the love and grace of Jesus.

This makes me think of college football and my encounters with fans from opposing schools. If there’s a kind, warm, and hospitable interaction, my thought process is always something along the lines of “wow, that school’s fans are all awesome!” I’m typically way more interested in following that team, rooting for them (when they aren’t playing mine!), and will speak positively about the school when it comes up in conversation. The opposite is just as true—a single negative interaction can cause me to assume the entire fanbase is just as rude or harsh, and I can almost guarantee I’ll be rooting against them when given the chance.

To put it boldly, we might be the only representation of Jesus this person encounters. Our words, attitudes, actions, and how we carry ourselves don’t just represent ourselves, but they can potentially color somebody’s view of Jesus, the Church, or His followers.  There is a great weight to how we live but the reward is that, through pointing others to Jesus, they may find the hope and freedom in Him that we’ve experienced.

SVCC_ChristMESS_DevoPost_12212018Thought of the day: In what areas of your life and in what relationships can you be a positive reflection of Jesus and His love for us?

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for loving me first. In the hopes of helping others meet, know, and follow You, I ask for the awareness and boldness to live as an accurate picture of the way You love everyone.