March 28, 2020 – Prepare for Resurrection Sunday

Preparing For Resurrection Sunday

“He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.” Matthew 28:6

This is really not so much a devotional email as it is an encouragement to start now preparing your hearts for an Easter season and day unlike any we have had before. Unless things change fairly soon, this will be an unusual Easter when we don’t even gather together, physically, to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, the current limitations on meeting in person should in no way keep us from worshipping and celebrating during this season;  the following are a few ideas how to focus your heart and mind on the reality of the real reason we celebrate Resurrection Sunday:

Read an Entire Gospel between Now and April 12: You can easily read any of the four Gospels just by reading a couple of chapters a day between now and Resurrection Sunday.

Choose One Day to Fast and Pray: Setting aside one day to seek the Lord’s presence in fasting and prayer might prepare your heart for Easter Sunday more than anything else you can do. If a whole day seems overwhelming, how about skipping one meal on Good Friday, spending the time in prayer and meditation?

Watch a Movie about the Life of Jesus: My personal favorite is “Jesus of Nazareth”; it is long, but you could take a few nights the week before Easter to watch it. “The Passion of the Christ”, for those who can handle the intensity and (realistic) violence, is another good one. The 2016 movie “Risen” explores the resurrection through the eyes of an initial skeptic. (You may want to check reviews online before watching these last two movies with younger children.) There are, of course, many others.

Daily Devotions for the Week Leading Up to Easter Sunday: I am currently sending out daily devotions on various topics; starting April 1 I will send ones on the Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross. These will actually be the ones I sent out two years ago leading up to Easter in 2018. You can use these alone or to help your family prepare for Easter as well.

Invite: We will be continuing our Sunday Morning 10:30 online worship services; I would encourage you to send invitations to anybody and everybody to join us for these. I would especially encourage you to prayerfully invite others to tune in on Easter Sunday; I assure you they will hear the Gospel of Hope during this time when many are struggling to make sense of what is going on. They can join us by simply going to our web site eastmountainvineyard.org

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March 27, 2020 – The Gifts of God

The Gifts of God

This morning God brought the following verse to my mind; after meditating on it for a while, I started looking up other verses that mention God’s gifts to us. I had such a good time doing so I decided it would make a good devotional to send out.

Here is the verse that got me started:

“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.” (James 1:17)

Here are some of the verses that God led me to while I was thinking about all the gifts of God; just spend some time meditating on these and any others that come to your mind. Extra credit: why not commit your favorite to memory?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38)

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

This last verse was especially meaningful to me this morning—that God has given me the “free gift of righteousness.”  Remember, the gifts of God are not a reward for righteousness. The gift of God IS righteousness!

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March 26, 2020 – The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

John Chapter 10, Verses 11 and 14

Today, rather than reflecting on my meditation, you are going to provide your own!

Open your Bible to Psalm 23, read through the Psalm 3-5 times, and, before looking at anything I have written below, just let God speak to you through this Psalm. Make it personal, putting your name in all the appropriate places. (Notice how David refers to the shepherd as “he” in the first three verses, but then starts saying “you” in the final three; David himself made the Psalm personal!)

 Make it a prayer of thanksgiving and an expression of trust to your Shepherd! Think through your own life; in what ways have your seen the promises in this Psalm fulfilled in the past? Are there any phrases or promises that are especially meaningful to you right now, in your present life? Are you confidently trusting the leading, protection, and provision of the Good Shepherd for your future? What areas in your present life, or future, do you find it difficult to so trust him? Turn these areas over to his care in prayer.

Prayer Focus

We individually and corporately need the guidance of our good shepherd today and in the days ahead. I shared two verses from John Chapter 10 above; let me share one more (Verse 27):

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Pray for yourself and your family, that you would clearly hear the voice of your “good shepherd” and have the grace to follow him closely. Think of one more person in our church, or anyone that God lays on your heart; pray the same for them. Finally, pray for East Mountain Vineyard Church as a whole; that the leaders (and everyone who is part of our church) would likewise hear, trust, and obey the voice of the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).

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March 25, 2020 – Blessings and the Blessed

Blessings and The Blessing

Daily we thank God for protection, for provision, for special people in our lives, and for many other blessings that we have received by his mercy and grace. Such thanksgiving is appropriate and an acknowledgement of his “blessings” is Scriptural (read Psalm 103 for example).

But—what does God’s Word point to as “The Blessing” of God?

In Ephesians 1:3, we are told that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” The ultimate blessings of God are spiritual and heavenly—hence, eternal!—and not the temporary provisions and even prosperity that he might choose to “bless” us with here on this earth. Even the Old Testament saints, who could have misunderstood God’s promises to merely mean an earthly home, actually understood that God meant so much more: “They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore…he has prepared for them a city.”  (Hebrews 11:16)

Paul, in Romans 4:6-8 (quoting Psalm 32:1-2) also notes the spiritual nature of the truly blessed when he notes that the truly blessed person is the one whose sins are forgiven! “David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”

The point is that we truly are blessed by God when we realize that he is preparing for us an eternal home in the heavens, and he is also preparing us to belong in this home!

“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”  (Acts 3:26)

When God transforms a sinner into a saint, that is his true blessing! While it is true that God may (and does!) bless us with many things in this world, his real blessing is to free us from this world!

He does this by granting us, not the spirit of the world, but His Spirit, freely given to those who believe: “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come…that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Gal. 3:14)

Final point to think about: the blessing of God is not a reward for righteousness; the blessing of God is righteousness!

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Daily Devotion March 24, 2020 – The Sufficiency of Grace

The Sufficiency of Grace

Now (as always) we need to remind ourselves and each other that our entire lives are to be lived in dependence upon God’s grace—his unmerited, underserved, and unlimited favor, blessing, protection and provision. Even the Apostle Paul had to learn this lesson; after three times asking God to remove a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8), he received an answer from God—one that he may not have expected, but that he did embrace:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Paul was content with calamities? Yes, because they provided an opportunity for the grace of God—for the “power of Christ”—to rest upon and strengthen him. Remember the prayer from yesterday’s devotional: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1)

Here are a few areas where grace is sufficient:

Salvation

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Spiritual Strength

“It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” Hebrews 13:9.

“The grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Titus 2:11-12

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:1

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Service

“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace.” Ephesians 3:7

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Romans 12:6

Conclusion

Since we are saved by grace, are strengthened by grace, and serve by grace—where do we go to find an unlimited supply of God’s grace?

“The only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14-17

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March 23, 2020 – One Essential Prayer

One Essential Prayer

There are many things that make up our prayer life. We pray for health when we or others are sick; we pray for needs to be met; we pray for the salvation or growth of friends and family. We also pray for our own personal struggles—for victory over a particular temptation, or for boldness in sharing the Gospel. We are also always praying for our church—for individual and corporate growth as we worship the Lord together—or, in light of the current circumstances, as we worship the Lord together while physically apart!  In addition, we pray every day for whatever happens to be on our minds and hearts.

Is there one thing that binds these prayers together? I believe that there is—or should be! The Psalmist prayed in Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.”

God has convicted me over the years that this prayer—the prayer that His Name is glorified—should shape all of my prayer life. Jesus himself taught us to begin our prayers this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

I am not in any way saying that God is not interested in the daily details of my life or the situations we find ourselves in; we should of course take all things to him in prayer. My point, rather, is that as the desire to glorify the worthy name of our God increases in my heart, the more I will pray that he is glorified in everything I do, say, or even think—in any and all circumstances.

This is actually one of the unifying themes of Paul’s prayers for the churches he planted or personally ministered to—note 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus exemplified as well as taught this principle. In John chapter 12, when the hour of his suffering and death were rapidly approaching, he said “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (Vs. 27, 28)

Maybe these examples from Scripture should shape all of my prayer life: “Not to me, but to your name give glory;” “Hallowed be your name;”

“Father, glorify your name!”

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March 21, 2020 – Entering God’s Presence

Entering God’s Presence

I can’t think of a more needed thing in our lives right now, when being in each other’s physical presence is limited, than to develop or deepen the daily habit of entering God’s presence. Psalm 95 provides us with three principles on how to do so.

So—let me encourage you to grab your Bible and a cup of coffee right now, and prepare to enter the presence of your Loving Father and Awesome God! (The coffee is optional; God’s Word is not!)

First, prayerfully read through the Psalm yourself, asking God to show you principles concerning how he bids you to come into his presence.

Now let’s break the Psalm down into three sections, and meditate on each section separately:

Psalm 95:1-5

“Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”

What has God shown you here—what does he say about how we should enter his presence? Personally, if I had to summarize the points of this passage, I would say that God wants us to enter his presence joyfully! You could also say “thankfully” but these are two aspects of the same attitude. Now think for a minute—what do you see in these verses that would cause you to be joyful or thankful as you enter the presence of your heavenly Father? Make it even more personal—what in your own life do you have to be thankful for? What has God done, or is he doing, or you know he will do, that brings you joy?

Psalm 95:6-7a

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Let me encourage you to include your body in your act of worship—go ahead, bow down!—“kneel before the LORD.” If the first five verses of this Psalm encourage us to enter God’s presence thankfully and joyfully, because he is our loving heavenly Father, these two verses remind us that he is also our God, our Maker, our LORD! As such, he wants us to enter his presence reverently! Take some time to worship God right now—just reflecting back to him in prayer how awesome and majestic the creator of the universe is! Remember, he is God—and you’re not!

Psalm 95:7b-8

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

I believe God is encouraging us here to enter his presence submissively. We need to continually ask God to soften our hearts to receive his Word; we need to ask his Holy Spirit to give us obedient hearts. We often ask God to reveal his will to us in certain circumstances; this is appropriate, but I think many times what we really need to pray is for hearts that are submissive and obedient to his already revealed will! King David himself found it necessary to pray “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!” (Psalm 143:10)

Is there an area of your life that you find yourself resisting the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Now—“today” as he says in verse 7—would be a good time to express to him that you are willing to obey (or at least you are willing to be made willing!).

There we have it—three ways to enter God’s presence: Joyfully; Reverently; Submissively. You may want to use this Psalm as a guide for your daily devotions!

Prayer Focus

It wouldn’t seem right to meditate through Psalm 95 without making it the guide for our prayers today. So—throughout the day, take time to express your gratefulness for all God has done, is doing, and will do! Find time today to remember that he is God; worship him as such! And finally, ask the Holy Spirit to give you an obedient, submissive heart—especially in any area that you sense yourself resisting his will.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

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March 20, 2020 – The Variables Will Change: Are You Ready?

Personal Note: I wrote the following devotional early this morning; when I started, there were no new emails in my inbox; right when I finished writing, an email appeared that had the following content; does this sound like confirmation that what God led me to write is what he wanted us to read?
“The variables have changed at a rapid pace. On Monday, Illinois and Ohio closed dining establishments. This announcement was followed by the President asking Americans to refrain from meeting in groups of more than 10. What will change next week? How long will this be the new normal? We are all watching as the methods in which we lead are changing.”By  the way, for those of you familiar with a word God impressed upon me last May, and confirmed in multiple ways, you might be interested in what the subject line was introducing the email:
“The Variables Will Change: Are You Ready?”So–here is the content of what I wrote this morning for our daily devotional; remember, the email quoted above was received after I finished writing:

“He will be the stability of your times.”

Isaiah 33:6

These are turbulent times; there is no denying this. I have been thinking this morning how much has changed just in the few months since we entered 2020. I have also been wondering when things will return to “normal’—or if they every will (and if things were ever “normal”).

Have you ever been present during an earthquake? I have not, but those who have tell me that the experience of having what we all take for granted as stable begins to shift is frightening, disconcerting, troubling. Those in an earthquake naturally look for anything to hold onto that will provide some stability.

What is the ground that Christians stand on? The truth is, if we have planted our feet on anything other than the stable ground of God’s Word and God’s Son, we will find the shifting and shaking that is currently taking place to cause us to succumb to fear rather than be strengthened in faith.

Culture Changes: Though the coronavirus itself will someday pass, I believe it has forever affected our culture. Though we will someday return to some of our “normal” practices both in our culture and in our churches, right now pastors and churches, like our culture at large, are struggling to have wisdom like the men of Issachar; “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Christians Change (Hopefully!): Though followers of Jesus should not be changing their convictions along with the culture they live in, we should also recognize that God does discipline us in order to weed out any sin, worldliness, or distrust in him. Hebrews chapter 12 talks about God’s loving discipline of his children; verse 10-11 say “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” The very purpose of discipline is to get us to change!

Christ Doesn’t Change (Thankfully!): The book of Hebrews both begins and ends with this truth: heaven and earth “will be changed, but you are the same” (1:12) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8.) It is this eternal truth that gives us certainty in changing times.

Where are you looking for stability in these shifting times? Remember this one truth:

“He will be the stability of your times.” Isaiah 33:6

Prayer Focus

Pray that East Mountain Vineyard Church (and all Christ-honoring churches) would know how to navigate these turbulent times; that we would apply the words of Ecclesiastes 8:5–“a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.” (NASB)

Pray that Christians as individuals, as well as individual churches, as well as the universal body of Christ, would examine ourselves and see if there is anything God’s Spirit is pointing out that we need to change. It is easy for us to say that God is calling the world to repentance with this virus, but we can’t ignore the fact that “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.” (1 Peter 4:17). What do I need to repent of; what do churches need to repent of?

Pray for yourself and our church—that we would look to Jesus during this time and always; that we would seek to find in him “the stability of our times.” If I am building my life on this sure foundation; if Jesus is truly  the foundation of East Mountain Vineyard Church, no amount of shaking will be able to dislodge us:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25

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March 19, 2020 – The Prophetic Shaking

The Prophetic Shaking

Scripture Passage

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ 27  This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29  for our God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:25-29

Earlier this year God impressed the word “shaking” on my mind while I was giving a Sunday morning message on an unrelated topic. I did not share it at that time, but felt led by the Lord to share it the following Sunday. Since then, two things have happened to confirm to me that this word was from the Lord.

The first is that I have since read and heard from many prophets the same word—God seems to be preparing his people for a shaking that is coming.

The second confirmation, of course, came with the spread of the coronavirus.

I do not believe that this virus is one of the plagues predicted by Jesus in the Gospels or by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. However, I do believe it is a foreshadowing; a warning; a merciful call to repentance before the final tribulation period. Just as I believe that 9/11 was a warning to America that yes, we can be attacked on our own soil, the current virus appears to be a warning to the world that unless we seek shelter in God alone, we are all vulnerable.

The world needs to be shaken periodically as a reminder that a righteous God is still on the throne, still in control, and still demanding to be honored as the creator and sustainer of all. “He has stretched out his hand over the sea; he has shaken the kingdoms.” (Isaiah 23:11)

The church of Jesus Christ needs to be shaken at times out of its lethargy; its worldliness; its contentment to have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

There are practical and prudent steps we can all take to lesson the physical impact of this virus, and we are trying to do so. However, there are even wiser spiritual steps we need to take; I will only list two of them here—both found in Hebrews 12:28 above:

First, gratefulness. Yes, even in the midst of turmoil, Christ-followers can and should be thankful. There are many reasons, but the one given in this passage is that we are citizens of an eternal kingdom that cannot be shaken!

Second spiritual application: worship God! Come before him with reverence; stand before him in awe! Even if we are not gathering together physically for a “worship service” right now, we can all continue—in fact, enhance!—our personal and family worship times!

Let me encourage each of us to start each of our days in the Lord’s presence, and then seek to carry that presence with us throughout the day.

Verse for Meditation

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

For Further Reflection

Psalm 62:2  Haggai 2:5-6  Luke 21:25-28  Acts 4:31

Prayer Focus

Pray that East Mountain Vineyard Church, All Churches, All Believers, Our Nation and All Nations, would repent of worldliness and complacency and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) His is, indeed, a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

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Baptism, Filling, & Walking in the Spirit

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