Daily Devotional

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Hope for the Doubter, part 3

Wednesday, May 18, 2022


A week after Thomas tells the others that he refuses to believe their reports he and the disciples find themselves together, in a locked room, when suddenly the source of all hope arrives. John 20:26-27 “A week later His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 The He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands.  Reach out you hand and put it into my side.  Don’t be faithless, but believe” CSB 

Without much explanation, Jesus shows up, in the flesh, inside this locked room where the disciples were hiding out. They must have been shocked to the core. In fact, the first words Jesus speaks to them are, “Peace be with you” - perhaps, just to let them know they did not have to be afraid.

To whom does He speak first? Thomas, the doubter. The one who refused to believe that He was alive. Notice how Jesus addresses him. Jesus does not reprimand Thomas for his doubt. He does not belittle him for his skepticism. He does not ridicule him for needing proof. No, Jesus invites Thomas to see for himself. He says…“Put your fingers in the scars in my hands and side.”  

 

POINT #2 – JESUS IS NOT AFRAID OF OUR DOUBT

There are many in the Church today who are struggling with their faith. They have lost hope that Jesus is who they thought He was. The typical response to those in the church who doubt is to shame them, or to shun them. I believe Jesus’ response would be much different. I am absolutely certain that He would welcome the questions; He would welcome the conversation; He would welcome the wrestle. I think - in fact, I am convinced, all of that is true because Jesus knows that honest doubt will find honest answers.

So how should the Church respond to those who have doubts? As we read this account, it seems it should be in a way that would be on par with Jesus’ response to Thomas? First, the Church should listen to those who doubt; for what they are not saying as much as what they are saying. Where does the doubt come from? Where is the hurt? Where is the pain? Where is the struggle?

Continued


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Hope for the Doubter, part 2

Tuesday, May 17, 2022


People doubt for all kinds of reasons. I would argue that the problem is not the doubt itself, but rather, how we handle our doubt. Mishandled skepticism often results in a lack of hope.

We are certainly not alone in this struggle. After Jesus’ crucifixion, His friends were heartbroken because their hopes and dreams of a new and better world under the rule of God’s kingdom had seemingly ended. It was not until Jesus miraculously began to show up in His resurrected form that word started to spread among the disciples that perhaps Jesus was alive!

There was one disciple, you might remember, named Thomas, who just couldn't believe: “…unless I put my finger in His hands and side…”

John 20:24-25 “But Thomas (called the “Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord! But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe” CSB.

Thomas far too often gets a bad rap in the Church. He gets treated as some kind of stuffy skeptic. And he is too often viewed as a grumpy old cynic. However, if we are truthful, Thomas comes to this place of skepticism and doubt honestly. He had just watched his mentor of three years, be brutally killed on a cross.  The thought of getting his hopes up about a resurrection that would defy all logic - and may have been just too much to wrap his mind around. He was more than likely looking to protect himself from any more pain. Thomas says that he will not believe, unless he sees evidence in front of his eyes, that he can see and touch. 

 

POINT #1 – WE DOUBT… TO PROTECT OURSELVES 

Truthfully, we are all a lot like Thomas. The doubt that we often express is a way of keeping ourselves from getting our hopes up, that things in our life can improve, that God can answer our prayers, or that God loves us. Thomas did not want to believe that Jesus was alive because he did not want to be let down.  We often do not want to believe and hope because we are somehow afraid that God will not come through.

Think about it: What is the first thing we say when we are given good news? We respond with, “No way!” or “You have got to be kidding me!” We respond, first, with doubt because we want to protect ourselves.

Sometimes, it takes time to let hope rise.  

Continued


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Hope for the Doubter, part 1

This week is the final week of our series, Hope Is Here. It has been so encouraging to uncover all the ways that we find hope in our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with one another.

The first week we learned that there is hope for the weary because we don’t have to carry our burdens alone. The second week, we discovered that there is hope for the broken because forgiveness is offered to us in love. The third week, we recognized that there is hope for the underdog because, with God, we can do anything. This final week, we deal with one of the hardest places to find hope: Is there hope for the doubter?

Have you ever heard a piece of information and you had a hard time believing was true? It’s like you hear it and you are automatically thinking, yeah, I don’t know about that! Maybe it seemed so outlandish that all you could reasonably do was doubt it. Maybe it was too good to be true, leading you to be skeptical. I want to pose some questions to you and I need you to decide if you trust it or doubt it. If you trust it, put your hand in the air. If you doubt it, keep your hand down. Play along, right there wherever you're reading this.


Did you know that every day, on average, 11 banks are robbed in the U.S.? Trust it or doubt it? It’s true! 

Did you know you are more likely to be stung by a bee, in windy weather? Trust it or doubt it? It’s false

Did you know they have square watermelons in Japan because they stack better? Trust it or doubt it? It’s true

Did you know penguins can smell toothpaste from a mile away? Trust it or doubt it? It’s false


It can be hard to tell what to trust and what to doubt. Doubt has become a common occurrence for many of us within our culture today. There are people that we know well who have failed us and it causes us to doubt. There is so much false information shared on social media that it may cause us to doubt everything. This past season of Covid-19 has caused many to doubt, wondering where God was/is in the middle of it all. Seeing a world that is full of hurt and pain can make us doubt whether God is indeed good.

Continued


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Hope for the Underdog, part 5

Friday, May 13, 2022


The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, speaks to this in Ephesians 6:12. Let’s turn there and read it: Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” CSB.  

Paul reminds his readers that if our battles are not really about the physical world around us - and they aren’t - then we cannot overcome by physical means. It takes a spiritual approach. We fight our most daunting battles by submitting to the will of God. We fight our most difficult circumstances by bringing them to God in prayer. We fight the evil that we come against by inviting God to intervene on our behalf. 

David calls upon God as he engages Goliath on the battlefield. With a single stone, a precise throw, and the power of God, David’s shot flies straight and true and it connects with the middle of Goliath’s forehead. The giant stops in his tracks stunned, then he falls face first to the ground, dead.

This single victory turns the tide of the entire war. The Philistines run and the Israelites pursue. 1 Samuel 17:51-52 “David ran and stood over him.  He grabbed the Philistine’s sword, pulled it from its sheath, and used it to kill him. Then he cut off his head. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they fled. 52 The men of Israel and Judah rallied, shouting their battle cry, and chased after the Philistines to the entrance of the valley and to the gates of Ekron. Philistine bodies were strewn all along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron” CSB.  

Suddenly, the once-frightened Israelite army is emboldened by a young boy and his sling. Because of David’s bravery and trust in God, they are all given hope that they, too, can be a part of the triumph of God.

 

POINT #4 – HOPE IS CONTAGIOUS

David’s hope in God spreads like wildfire. The entire story changes. The entire narrative takes a new tone. It is no longer about defeat; it is now about victory.

There is something that happens within a fellowship of faith when just one person has the audacity to believe God for great things. The church benefits greatly from just one person with a little hope, because hope is contagious. It spreads like wildfire. It begins with one person in the congregation, one who believes that God can use them to lift others out of poverty. It starts with one person who wants to see children in the community impacted in the summer through Vacation Bible School. It takes one person with a heart for overseas missions. It takes one person who believes that prayer changes things. It could be the spark that ignites an entire congregation with hope. And, that person might well be you.

Ancient church father, Thomas Aquinas, said it this way, “Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.” Even though you cannot see how God might come through, faith is believing it is still possible. When a whole church begins to function this way, that is when the world changes. END


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Hope for the Underdog, part 4

Thursday, May 12, 2022


David’s confidence - friends, his confidence, comes from God’s faithfulness and it is the drive he needs to overcome.

Let’s pick the account back up in verse 40. 1 Samuel 17:40-47 “Instead, he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in the pouch, in his shepherd’s bag. Then, with his sling in his hand, he approached the Philistine. 41 The Philistine came closer and closer to David, with the shield-bearer in front of him.

42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he despised him, because he was just a youth, healthy and handsome. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?” Then he cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” the Philistine called to David, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts!” 

45 David said to the Philistine: “You come against me with a sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the Name of the Lord of Armies, the God of the ranks of Israel – you have defied Him. 46 Today, the LORD will hand you over to me. Today, I’ll strike you down, remove your head, and give the corpses of the Philistine camp to the birds of the sky and the wild creatures of the earth. Then all the world will know that Israel has a God, 47 and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the LORD saves, for the battle is the LORD’s.  He will hand you over to us” CSB

Saul, the King of Israel at the time, tried to fit David with armor and weapons to protect him in the battle, but none of them even came close to fitting. As if David being a boy did not make him disadvantaged enough, now he is going to fight Goliath with nothing but a slingshot and five smooth stones. After Goliath breathes out threats to this little underdog, David responds by telling him that, while Goliath fights with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, David is letting God fight his battles for him. David was seeing through spiritual eyes, not just physical eyes. 

 

POINT #3 – THIS IS HOW WE FIGHT OUR BATTLES

Maybe, you don’t feel equipped to overcome the things that you are facing in this moment, or will be soon. Then let me tell you this, you are in good company. Maybe you know that your trial is simply too much for you.

As odd as this will sound, that knowledge is a good place to start. You see, the truth is that it is only when we realize that our battles are not waged in conventional ways, but rather in the spirit world that we will begin to experience God fighting for us. For David, this is a spiritual battle. Yes, it plays out (as most spiritual battles do) in the physical world. And, as all these battles do, it takes God’s involvement to experience the victory.

Continued


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Hope for the Underdog, part 3

Wednesday, May 11, 2022


David is sent by his father and arrives at the front lines to check on his older brothers, who are fighting in the Israelite army. It is at that point that David gets the first real look at what the Israelite army was facing. 1 Samuel 17:23-2632-37 “While he was speaking with them, suddenly the champion named Goliath, the Philistine from Gath, came forward from the Philistine battle line and shouted his usual words, which David heard. 24 When all the Israelite men saw Goliath, they retreated from him terrified.  

     25 Previously, an Israelite man declared, “Do you see this man who keeps coming out? He comes to defy Israel. The king will make the man who kills him very rich and will give him his daughter. The king will also make the family of that man’s father exempt from paying taxes in Israel.” 26 David spoke to the men who were standing with him: “What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 

Skipping down to verse 32: David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged by him; your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” 33 But Saul replied, “You can’t go fight this Philistine.  You’re just a youth, and he’s been a warrior since he was young.”

     34 David answered Saul: “Your servant has been tending his father’s sheep. Whenever a lion or a bear came and carried off a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it down, and rescued the lamb from its mouth. If it reared up against me, I would grab it by its fur, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed lions and bears; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 Then David said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will recue me from the hand of the Philistine’” CSB.   

You can hear, and even almost feel, the determination within David! Though just a boy, David knows someone has to stand up to this threat.

This threat is a massive man named Goliath. Goliath was a decorated warrior from Philistine. He struck fear into the hearts of all who saw him, he was a giant, he was terrifying. The entire Israelite army was paralyzed with fear. No one was willing to take on this giant.  However, someone has to do something and David is willing to take that on. 

What causes a young man, an underdog, to take on such a mountainous task? Hope.  Hope that he will not fight this battle alone; Hope that with God’s help, there is nothing that is impossible. Hope that what little he has to offer is enough. David’s reasoning for this hope comes from God’s faithfulness in the past. God had been with him when he was protecting sheep in the field from lions and bears; surely the Lord would also protect him now that he was facing a giant!

 

POINT #2 – IF GOD IS FOR US, NOTHING CAN STAND AGAINST US

When we find ourselves in seasons of struggle, sometimes we have to remind ourselves of how God has been with us in the past. Hope is a derivative of trust. When we believe that something or someone is trustworthy, it gives us hope.   

It is a lot like a child who plays with her father in the pool. I remember all too well when our daughter was little (still less than two years old). A cousin and his wife came to the Twin Cities (where we were living) for his work and they were staying at a hotel only a couple miles from our house, so they invited us to come swimming with them.

I had Marissa in the shallow water playing for a few minutes when she wanted to get out. I let her go by Gayle and I swam out to the deeper end of the pool. Suddenly, I saw her running toward the edge of the deep end of the pool opposite of where I was. Before I could get to her, she was at the edge and wasn't stopping: there was no slowing down, and under the water she went - it happened so fast!

As quick as I could, I grabbed her, pulled her up out of the water, and began wiping the water off her face, only to hear her laughing. I took her back to Gayle and before I could walk back to the pool she was running for the deep end of the pool again with absolutely no fear, no concern. She was absolutely confident that daddy would be there again. There was only trust in daddy’s love to catch her, to pull her out of the deep water as he had done every time before. She was full of hope - though she would throw herself into the deep water, her parents would keep her safe.

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Hope for the Underdog, part 2

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


It is clear from the beginning of this account (David vs Goliath) that David has found himself in a position that is considerably above his paygrade. The first readers of this text would have been overwhelmed by the change of scenery - from the fields to the fight.

 

POINT #1 – WE ARE RARELY PREPARED FOR THE FIGHT

The truth is, we are hardly ever prepared to handle what life throws at us. It’s a phone call with a diagnosis. It’s a discovery of infidelity. It’s a temptation we did not see coming. No one asks to be placed in a position where there is no clear route to victory. This is where David finds himself within the first few verses of this account. And it just might be where you are this week. When we find ourselves in a place like this, we need some kind of hope.

A number of years ago now, we were living in Illinois and were leading the youth ministry at First Assembly Wood River. I had the opportunity to take some of our teens on a Missions trip to Guatemala with a larger group from Minnesota. We were about a week into the trip: it was a Sunday night, we were in a small church in a town a little smaller than Waseca. I preached that night, and, oddly enough, we had a wonderful service with many coming to repentance. 

After about 20 minutes of praying with people around the altar area, I slipped to the back and grabbed a video camera to get some memories on tape. As I began videoing, the Missionary we were working with slipped out of the building to arrange for a late dinner for the team and a few of the leaders from the church. 

There were still a good number of people praying and worshiping in the front of the church and many of the teens from our team were praying with people and others were ministering to the children in the back and just outside the back door. Suddenly someone came to me and said, “The pastor wants you to come back up front the help with a situation.” “What situation? and why can’t one of the other youth pastors help?” was my reply. The person said, “There is a girl up there who they said has a demon and they need you to come and cast it out.” And that’s when I knew I was in over my head.  

Of course, I’ve read accounts of this in the Bible and I had seen someone – many years earlier - deal with a demoniac once. But no one had ever taught me how to do this. The pastor and other youth pastors were looking to me to “handle” this situation, in large part, because I had been the one who preached that night and the Missionary was gone.

There were a lot of things running through my mind and most of them were cries for help. The truth was, I needed Hope. And that teenage girl with a demon needed Hope even more than I did. As I slowly walked to the front, I was praying in the Spirit, asking for wisdom and for God to take over the situation.

I was fully aware I had no chance of “handling" this situation... but God! Oh! God used me and others to assist Him and about 20 minutes later, that teenage girl who had been demon possessed was set free! by the incredible power and presence of God!

I don’t have time to tell you that whole story, but it was a powerful time of God bringing Hope through us, in all our unpreparedness for that situation.

It is at this point in time when we have to decide how we will respond. Do we give up and accept defeat or do we trust in God to give us the strength to carry on?   

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Hope for the Underdog, part 1

Monday, May 9, 2022


Happy Monday, Friends! Thank you for joining us this week for the third week of our series called Hope Is Here. We've been looking at different ways that God brings us hope in the face of a world that is hopeless. The first week, we talked about how Jesus brings us hope when we are weary from the heaviness of life and how we do not have to walk through this life alone. Last week, we talked about the hope that comes from the grace of Jesus, when we are broken because of sin, and how we can forgive because we have been forgiven. This week, we want to talk about the hope that is given to us when we feel like we are facing more than we can handle and we are the underdog.

There is a reason that so many of us love some of the classic movies in our culture. Movies like Rudy, Rocky, Cinderella Man, and Cool Runnings are loved because they all have a common theme: they are all movies about underdogs. They are films about unlikely characters overcoming amazing odds. They are all told in different ways, and all have their own unique outcomes, but they all tell a story of hope. Maybe these movies do something to us because, at some level, we all know what it feels like to have to face overwhelming circumstances that we can’t overcome on our own. We cheer for the underdog because, somehow, we feel like if they can win, so can we.

Life is full of daunting situations, isn’t it? Parenting children can feel incredibly overwhelming, especially to new parents – but to all parents from time to time.  Navigating global pandemics can be more than we can handle. Juggling careers and family can be hard to do well. Growing in your faith and defeating sinful habits can be more than a little challenging. I would argue all of these things are difficult because they are not meant to be done alone. 

The Bible is full of stories of characters who, against all odds, experience victory. There is a common thread in these stories as well. The characters all are fully aware that without God on their side, there is no hope of a favorable outcome. Left to themselves, they would face defeat.

One of the classic Biblical accounts of an underdog is the life account of David. This account takes place long before David is King of Israel. At this point, he is just a young man, probably in his mid to late teens.  1 Samuel 17:20-21 “So David got up early in the morning, left the flock with someone to keep them, loaded up, and set out as Jesse had charged him. He arrived at the perimeter of the camp as the army was marching out to its battle formation shouting their battle cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines lined up in battle formation facing each other” CSB.

Just hours before David arrives at the front lines of a massive conflict between the Israelite and the Philistine armies, he is in the fields taking care of the family’s flock of sheep.

Continued tomorrow