Home 2019 October 21 40 Days of Hope Week 4

40 Days of Hope Week 4

(Devotions are written by Pastor Brenda unless otherwise indicated.)

Day 21 Sunday, October 20

“…Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ and they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16: 13-19 (NRSV)

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  Acts 1: 8 (NIV)

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  I Corinthians 12: 27 (NRSV)

We are in week four of our series on hope. We began this study recognizing that we build our lives on promises. People do not always keep their promises, but God is a promise keeper. We find hope when we build our lives on God’s promises.

This week, we focus on Jesus’ promise that He will build His church. More than this, Jesus promises that He will equip and empower the church with His Holy Spirit. With all of the negative discussions about the decline in church attendance, millions of people are found in worship every week. A third of the earth’s population- nearly 2 billion people- call Jesus Lord. Jesus promised that His church will prevail.

At church, we have the opportunity for all sorts of connections. We connect to God’s Word through study. We connect to new insights and understandings as we study with one another. We connect to the Holy Spirit through prayer and praise. We connect to supportive relationships. We connect to resources that offer us comfort and encouragement through difficulties. All of these connections provide hope. The church is God’s idea, another of God’s beautiful gifts to us.

Take time to reflect this week on how God has worked through the church to teach, comfort, strengthen, and guide you in life. 

“Lord, thank You for the gift of the church. Open my eyes to see the ways Your Holy Spirit is at work in the church. Focus me on all the ways we can support each other and take Your message out into the world. Keep me from getting caught up in criticisms of shortcomings. None of us are finished works yet, so guide us to learn and help each other. Fill me with the hope in You that grants the spiritual courage to move forward.”

Day 22  Monday, October 21

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  I Corinthians 12: 27 (ESV)

The human body has 206 bones, 639 muscles, and about 6 pounds of skin, along with ligaments, cartilage, veins, arteries, blood, fat, and more. Every time we hear a sound; every time we take a step, every time we take a breath, hundreds of different parts work together so that what we experience is a single movement, our minds, and bodies working as one unit. As Raewynne Whiteley writes, “Even the greatest engineers struggle to achieve anything like it in mechanical form. The human body represents one of the most complex systems in existence.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, p.279)

The body of Christ is one of the most popular images for the church. Other images found in scripture include the people of God, the community of faith, or holy people. The image of the body, however, points to how crucial each of us is in order for the body to be healthy. All you have to do is cut your finger, sprain your ankle, or have a twenty-four-hour stomach bug to realize the extra challenges experienced when any part of you is not healthy. Cooking, computer work, or just combing your hair is painful with a cut finger. Calculate the extra time it takes to get ready, run an errand, and fulfill job responsibilities with a sprained ankle.

It takes all 206 bones and 639 muscles to run a church. If you have ever wondered about your purpose or felt like you were not needed, this is God’s call on your life. We are called to be the body of Christ. You are needed and important. We are not Christians in isolation. In fact, you cannot really be a Christian in isolation. Every member of the church is given gifts that are meant to be exercised for the common good. Maybe you are the note taker that keeps everyone on track. Perhaps your prayers set the tone for learning and receiving from the Holy Spirit. You are the teacher that spends six hours on the lesson. You are the one who calls people each week to check on them. 

The church is God’s idea and God’s gift. It is also our responsibility. When we belong to the body of Christ, we have the responsibility of functioning as part of the body. Belonging means participating and contributing.

Lord, the church is not a building, but a body of people. We are called to care for each other. But our call is much bigger. We are called to use our gifts for the good of the whole. We are called to share the good news out in the world. We are called to be witnesses for You wherever we are. We are called to serve our neighbor. Help me to remember that everyone at church is indispensable to the whole. Remind me that I am instructed to fulfill the role You have given me with the uniqueness of my personality and gifts. Fill me with the hope in You that grants the spiritual courage to move forward using all of my gifts and graces.”

Day 23   Tuesday, October 22

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  Acts 1: 8 (ESV)

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”  Acts 2: 1-4 (NIV)

Has your ‘to-do’ list ever been too much to do? Reflect a moment on the church’s to-do list:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Matthew 28: 19-20 (NIV)

  • Make disciples of all nations 
  • Baptize
  • Teach the Word of God

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.” James 5: 16 (NIV)

  • Hold each other accountable
  • Pray for each other 

“1 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” I Thessalonians 5: 11 (NRSV)

  • Encourage one another

 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Matthew 25: 35-36 (NIV)

  • Feed the poor 
  • Clothe the needy
  • Care for the sick
  • Visit those in prison
  • Welcome the stranger

When the ‘to-do’ list is overwhelming, there is another of God’s promises that we can cling to- the promise of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 28, after the instruction to make disciples of all nations and baptize and teach…the remainder of the verse reads…  “ and lo I am with you always…”

Jesus told the disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus empowers and equips us to be His followers. The Holy Spirit came alongside those first disciples in the book of Acts. The Spirit dwelled within them and gave them courage and wisdom for the endless challenges they faced. The Spirit is still with us. We have the most important connection, the connection to God’s presence and strength in our lives. 

As we studied the book of Acts last fall, I reminded all of us to pray daily for the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit anew into your life every morning. Pray for the Spirit to grant you wisdom and encourage you when you are ready to throw in the towel. We have never been asked to go this life on our own power. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  Acts 1: 8 (ESV)

“Holy Spirit, fall afresh on me. Grant me the wisdom to cross off items on my ‘to-do’ list that should not be there, prioritize the other items, and not try to accomplish any of them without Your goodness and strength leading me. Fill me with the calm, courage, and compassion that will witness effectively for You in every circumstance. Remind me that You are bigger than any circumstance I am facing. More than all of the above, equip me with Your Spirit so that wherever I am, I am serving you faithfully as a member of the body of Christ. Fill the church anew with Your Spirit so that all of us working together will be empowered and guided into the most important things You need us to accomplish even this week.”

Day 24  Wednesday, October 23

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  Acts 1: 8 (ESV)

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 …. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,[a] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14: 18-20, 25-26 (NRSV)

Yesterday, we looked at the church’s ‘ to-do’ list, and frets about our own ‘to-do’  lists. What a reassurance that the Holy Spirit’s ‘to-do’ list is designed to help us with our own. We are promised power from the Holy Spirit. Throughout the scriptures, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a Comforter, Helper, Advocate, Teacher, Guide, and Power. The Holy Spirit distributes gifts to each of us and even intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit guides ministries and equips us to help each other.

Sunday, I shared just a few of the ways the church has shaped my life, and how those connections have made such a strong impact. I still remember vividly taking gifts and singing to shut-ins in our community as an elementary student. I learned early on that God didn’t put me on earth to live a self-centered life.

Decades ago, a hurricane hit the Raleigh area really hard, and my sister and her husband live on a 5-acre lot that is a forest except for the house. My memory is that so many trees fell across their driveway that they could not even get out, but mainly that trees fell on their home. Members of the church I was serving gathered their tools and went with my husband and were able to clear the path and get the trees off of their home.

When we sat in the hospital waiting room for one of our younger son’s surgeries, in walked part of the church family and kept me distracted during the hours of waiting.

God does not expect us to go it alone. We are not left to our own devices. We rely on a higher power. We seek the Holy Spirit through prayer and invitation.

Holy Spirit, I need You in every way. I need You for comfort and strength, to be my advocate and helper. I need You to open my eyes to gifts You are wanting me to use on behalf of others. I need You to equip and empower me to serve You more faithfully at church and out in the community. Please forgive me when I live selfishly and forget Your call on my life. Please forgive me when I try to go it on my own, and then struggle and despair. Fill me anew. Come into my spirit and shape me for Your goodness. Fill me with the hope in You that grants the spiritual courage to move forward.”

Day 25  Thursday, October 24

“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits[a] of another.” Proverbs 27: 17 (NRSV)

“24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…” Hebrews 10: 24 (NRSV)

As we are talking about connections that matter and that give us hope, surely the church is all-important. We each have a personal responsibility to pursue a walk with God that will grow us into faithful disciples. We are not, however, called to make this walk alone. It is not a solo endeavor. The Christian life is meant to be lived in community.

The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is considered a book of wisdom. It is important to note that throughout Proverbs, there is a heavy emphasis on human interaction. Proverbs 15: 22 reminds us that without counsel, plans go wrong and that we should seek the advice of many. In the verse today from Proverbs 27, we are instructed that our interactions with others are actually necessary for growth. In the midst of football season, we have weekly reminders that athletic competitions test and sharpen the skills of the players. Likewise, our minds are sharpened when we reflect and interact with others in Bible study. Spiritual health is sharpened when we engage in serious and open discussions about life issues and how they relate to faith. 

In the midst of grieving, a widow shared with me how much she missed her husband in the ministries they shared together. They were active in outreach projects at the church as well as serving side by side as short term missionaries in other countries. He was the one who planned the details and often prepared curriculum for studies. She is strong in interpersonal skills and creates welcoming environments that foster relationships. They were a magnetic team, and the loss is great.

Consider how those in your Sunday school class or how those you volunteer with sharpen your faith. What are the steps you can take to strengthen the connections you have with others at church? Remember that when you are missing, it is a loss for the group. The sharing of insights and the unique personalities and experiences you bring to a discussion foster the growth that is meant to happen when we are together.

“Lord, thank You for all those You have placed in my life that have helped me mature spiritually. Thank You for those who have spurred me on to volunteer and serve. Thank You for those who have caused me to take a second look at scripture or to recognize layers of meaning. Increase the number of connections I have with others in the community of faith and strengthen and grow these connections.”

Day 26  Friday, October 25

“…Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ and they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16: 13-19 (NRSV)

The church is God’s idea. This scripture from Matthew has been highly debated. Is the church built on Peter’s testimony, Peter’s faith? Does Jesus build the church giving Peter a unique and unrepeatable position? Rather than get lost in theological debates, the good news is the promise of Christ to build His church. More so, it is the promise of Christ to build His church and that not even the forces of death will prevail against it.

Christ’s choice to build the church is a clear message to us that the church is essential to Christian faith. We live out our faith in community. We love and serve. We hold each other accountable and help each other grow. Charles Hambrick Stowe writes, “The church is not merely a means to achieve a greater goal, nor is it just a voluntary association of like-minded individuals. It is an article of faith. Jesus promises that He will build His church. He will protect the church He is building so that, while the forces of sin and death will do its worst to destroy, the church nevertheless will prevail.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 3, P. 384)

Jesus connected the church to His Kingdom. The church is to be about God’s Kingdom work. When Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom and granted authority to bind and loose, he is setting standards, rulings about what can and cannot be done by members of the church. This is fleshed out in much of the New Testament when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and it is by living in the Spirit that we spiritually mature into faithful, compassionate, generous, holy people. It is our living testimony that is Kingdom work.

For those of you who are familiar with the scriptures, you likely recall that Peter was not always what we think of as a ‘solid rock’. He was often more like a stumbling stone. He was hard-headed and impulsive at times. He denied Jesus three times when Jesus most needed Him. I think back to the months when our boys were first given the car keys and went out on their own. Talk about anxiety.  Are they mature enough? Are they ready? Jesus saw in Peter such faith that He gave Peter the keys. Jesus knew that Peter’s faith would prevail.

Of course, many say that if Jesus would pick such a bumbler as Peter, there is hope for all of us. I encourage you to dig deeper and work on your own testimony. Jesus responded to Peter’s testimony. Peter recognized Jesus as Lord. We cannot rest on Peter’s testimony. We are called to live and give our own.

Lord, have I forgotten what a privilege it is to be a member of Your church? Have I forgotten that the church is the source of connections that help me spiritually mature and serve You fully? Lord, forgive my complacency, my criticisms, my self-centeredness. Fill me once again with Your Holy Spirit. Mold me into the person You created me to be. Fill me with the hope in You that grants the spiritual courage to move forward.”

Day 27  Saturday, October 26

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 25 (ESV) 

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Matthew 25: 35-36 (NIV)

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Romans 15:7 (NRSV)

It is the day of the Fall Festival at Muir’s Chapel. It is a fun day to meet together, and so many of Christ’s directives are met in this day. We honor God’s call to welcome others. There is free food and opportunities for prayer. It is a day to strengthen our connections with one another and to build new connections.

Hospitality is important throughout the scriptures. Bishop Robert Schnase summed it up well, “Christian hospitality is the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.” Welcoming requires understanding that people are looking for God, even when they don’t know what they seek.  Welcoming means showing love to others as a way of expressing God’s love for them.

I cannot find the words to adequately express that everything we do as the ‘body of Christ’ matters. We are connected to one another by God’s design. The opportunities to use these connections for good are unending. Early on in the life of the church, Paul was lifting up in Hebrews 10 the instruction to ‘not neglect to meet together.’ It seems to be something we can easily take for granted.

Continue to reflect on how God has worked through the church to teach, comfort, strengthen, and guide you in life.

“ Lord, thank you for the gift of church. Thank you for all the opportunities I have had to serve, learn, and meet people. Deepen the connections I already have, and equip me with Your Holy Spirit to reach out and intentionally make new connections. Guide me to be such a strong church member that others will want to know what church is about.  Fill me with the hope in You that grants the spiritual courage to move forward.”

I am so grateful for everyone who participated (or will participate) in the Fall Festival! 

You are making a difference!

Author: MCUMCweb

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