Friday, June 24, 2016

Your statutes are wonderful, therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Psalm 119:129-132

Thank God today for his word and ask him to bring light and understanding to your heart and mind today.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. 
Matthew 5:13-16

When I was a freshman in college I was rather quiet about my faith. I was a Christian, and I wanted to follow Christ, but I wasn’t anxious to be identified as such by my new classmates. I suppose, looking back, that I didn’t want to start off my new college life being identified as “weird” or “different.” But about two weeks into my first semester, a bunch of us were up just hanging out at about 1 a.m. when a fellow freshman – known to be quite the party animal – looked at me and said, “Hey Coffey, what makes you tick?” I said, “Uh, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, you don’t drink, you don’t cuss – you’re just different – are you religious or something? What makes you tick?” I remember mumbling something about being a Christian – I’m sure not the most dynamic testimony by any means – and my classmate just said, “That’s cool, I was just wondering.”

I’ve often thought back to that late night conversation. Even when I was trying to hide the light of Christ “under a bowl” – it still leaked out! Yet, even so, I wasn’t ready to put my light on a stand and share it with my dorm mates. The truth is that I had unintentional impact, accidental influence on the guys in my dorm. I think Jesus is calling us to more than accidental impact - he’s calling us to intentional influence. That doesn’t mean we have to be the kind of “in your face” kind of witness that frightens people or turns them off. It does mean that we should not hide our light – but rather we should always be ready and willing to share the light of truth, the light of Christ, with those who are trying to find their way. 

Can you think of a person in your life who might be searching for God – or who should be searching for God? Ask God to provide an opportunity for you to be the spiritual influence he can use to draw that person to himself. Ask him to prepare you with the right words to either explain why you are a follower of Christ – or to invite them to join you for a worship service or ministry event at FBCG!

Thank the Lord for being faithful to spend time with you this week – and for his presence in your life!

Brian Coffey

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

As you begin your time today, offer your thanksgiving to God for his love and faithfulness expressed to you in so many ways.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Every now and then, we will be watching the news on TV, driving in our van, or sitting at yet another ball game of some kind, and one of our boys will witness some simple act of kindness or generosity by a total stranger. It might be a guy letting someone merge into traffic ahead of him or someone volunteering to serve and care for others in need. And upon witnessing the act, without knowing the person involved, one of our boys will say something like, “I bet he’s (or she’s) a Christian.”

Sometimes I wonder if other people do the same thing. I wonder if people watch how I drive, or how I treat the cashier at the grocery store, or if I take time to bow my head in prayer before a meal at a local restaurant. I wonder if people watch me living my everyday life and say to themselves, “I bet that guy’s a follower of Jesus!” 

Jesus is saying that the way that we live, the way that we act, the way that we speak, the way that we treat other people; our patience, our kindness, our generosity, our joy – all of it reflects on him. All of us are either pushing people away from Jesus or drawing them toward Jesus – all of us, all the time.

Now, I want to be careful here because I don’t think Jesus wants us to live our lives as some kind of performance! I think he wants us to live in a genuine and personal relationship with him – to know his love and grace in our hearts – and to simply reflect that love and grace naturally to others. It shouldn’t be an act, it should be genuine. And while it may require some practice and some discipline to learn to see others the way Jesus sees them – it shouldn’t be a burden, but rather a joy!

Ask God to make you more and more aware of the opportunities – both small and large – that you have every day to shine the light of Christ’s love through both words and actions. Ask him to use your life in such a way that others can see him through you!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday June 22, 2016

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seem him with all their heart. Psalm 119:1-2

Thanks God today for the truth of his word and ask him to use his word to shape your values, your behavior, and your life.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. Matthew 5:13

One summer day my wife and I went to watch our two younger sons play in a travel baseball game. After we got ourselves settled into our “portable” chairs, Lorene produced a bag of peanuts for our mutual enjoyment during the game. I happily cracked the first shell and popped the peanut into my mouth – only to discover that these particular peanuts were unsalted. I don’t know about you, but nothing is quite as disappointing as munching on unsalted peanuts at a ball game! I put the unopened peanuts I had in my hand back in the bag, crumpled it up and left it under my seat until the end of the game. If they weren’t salted I wasn’t going to waste my calories on them!

In a way, Jesus is saying the same thing. Only he isn’t talking about peanuts – he’s talking about us; he’s talking about his church. 

In our world we see salt mostly as a “flavor enhancer.” We like our peanuts, chips and pretzels to be coated in salt! In Jesus’ day, before the advent of refrigeration, salt was seen more as a preservative – used to keep meat from spoiling. Because of this preservative power, salt was an extraordinarily valuable commodity in the ancient world. Historians tells us that, at times, Roman soldiers would actually be paid in salt for their services.

Jesus, therefore, is saying something very significant with this simple analogy. As his followers, we are to exert a kind of preservative influence in the world around us. Because, as followers of Jesus, we ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness,’ and because Christ lives in and through us, he wants to use us to preserve our world and our culture from corruption. Furthermore, he says that if his people do not have this kind of influence – we are like salt that has lost its saltiness and is good for nothing.

Now, we must be careful here. Jesus is not saying that if we aren’t having a positive spiritual influence on those around us we are not saved, or that he doesn’t love us! Our salvation is secured by the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 1:13-14). But he is saying that when he saves us by his grace – he doesn’t intend that we keep that gift to ourselves – but rather that we share it in all kinds of ways with the world around us. In short, he wants us to be salty!

Close your time with God today by asking him to help you see and understand how he can use you to exert a preserving influence in the small circle of your life. Ask him to make you salty enough that those around you might become thirsty for him!

Brian Coffey

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:1-2

Begin by focusing on the “dwelling place” – the sanctuary God has established in your heart. Thank him for being faithful to meet you there by his Spirit – and ask him to cause you to long more and more for this daily time with him.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
 Matthew 5:13-16

A number of years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey on FBCG’s first short term team to the land where the Apostle Paul established some of the earliest Christian churches. Toward the end of our trip we journeyed into the mountainous eastern part of the country to visit the ruins of two ancient churches. After a long and somewhat treacherous drive up steep mountain roads we were amazed at the magnificent architecture of these cathedrals built in the 9th and 10th centuries. One could still see the huge marble pillars, vaulted ceilings of the sanctuaries, and the domes that rose over 50 feet from the floor. To construct such places of worship in such remote locations would be an astonishing feat of engineering today – let alone over one thousand years ago! It was moving to think of the people so long ago that dedicated these places of worship to the glory and God and the supremacy of Christ!

But, the truth is, these once magnificent cathedrals are now in ruins. Worship has not taken place nor has the gospel been preached in these villages in 500 years. The ruins are a relic of a vibrant past – but today they are empty shells, piles of dead stones.

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by describing the attitudes and values that mark the lives of his disciples: poor in spirit, meek, merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart, hungry and thirsty for righteousness…etc. Now he begins to envision the impact that his followers – his church - will have upon the world.

He uses two common but very valuable elements from the ancient world – salt and light - as metaphors that we will flesh out as the week goes on. But the sense of these verses is that, from the very beginning, Jesus wanted his followers to make a difference in the world. When Jesus envisioned the worshiping community that would be his church – he did not imagine a gutted and empty ancient building that serves more as a museum than anything else. He did not imagine a building where people go once a week to sing a few songs and listen to an uplifting sermon. He did not imagine a building at all. Jesus imagined a movement of people who, because of his influence in their lives, would, in turn, influence the world.

Take a few moments to reflect on your own life and your view of the church. Have you thought of yourself as called by Jesus to make a difference in your world? Have you thought of the church as a place to go on Sunday – or as a movement that you are part of? Ask the Lord to challenge your understanding of both yourself and your church through his word.

Brian Coffey

Monday, June 20, 2016

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:1-2

As you begin your time today, thank God for listening to your heart, for giving you his strength, and for providing a firm place for you to stand today.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me, Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:4, 10-12

No one likes to mourn. No one wants to mourn. Yet Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn…” Likewise, few volunteer to be the target of insults, persecution and slander! Yet Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and say all kinds of evil against you…!” Is Jesus saying we are to seek out tragedy, sorrow and persecution? 

No! Jesus is simply acknowledging that those who follow him will experience sorrow and suffering – but that even these difficult and painful trials will result in the blessing of God.

Many scholars believe that Jesus had at least three kinds of mourning in mind when he said, “Blessed are those that mourn…” He was referring to the mourning that comes with having loved others and then losing them to the inevitability of death. While death itself is not a blessing (although heaven certainly is) the capacity to mourn is a blessing because it is preceded by the experience of love. We only grieve that which we love. We see this in the story of Jesus and Lazarus, when onlookers observed Jesus’ tears and commented, “See how he loved him!” Those who mourn greatly have loved greatly – and this is a blessing from God.

Secondly, Jesus had in mind those who look at the pain and brokenness of the world and mourn because this is not what God intended. Such mourning is blessing because it urges us to step into the pain of the world with the hope of the gospel.

Thirdly, Jesus was speaking of those who mourn their own sinfulness. As we grow closer to Christ, the Holy Spirit makes us more intensely aware of the sin that clings to our own hearts. This sorrow drives us to our knees in genuine repentance and produces the joy of forgiveness and purity of heart.

Our culture routinely encourages us to avoid pain and to pursue personal comfort at all cost. Jesus teaches us that pain, while not pleasant in and of itself, can be that which reveals to us the very blessing of God. 

In what ways do you mourn today?

Have you lost someone that you loved? Ask God to fill your heart with the blessing of having loved deeply. 

Do you mourn the brokenness of the world around you? Ask him to allow you to minister in some way to that brokenness. 

Do you mourn your own sinfulness? Ask God to make you more and more aware of thoughts, attitudes and actions that do not reflect his purity and grace in your life – and allow him to remove them from your heart through confession and repentance.

Thank God for being faithful to you this week – and ask him to cause his word to continue to work in your heart and life.

Friday, June 17, 2016

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?Psalm 42:1

As you work through today’s devotion, ask God to make you more deeply aware of your thirst for him – for his presence, for his love, for his voice and for his truth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 Matthew 5:6, 8

When was the last time you were really hungry, or really thirsty? If I’m honest, I am rarely, if ever, truly hungry or thirsty. I live most of my life, as I suspect you do as well, just a few feet or minutes from all I could want to eat or drink. Before we can understand what Jesus is saying here we have to understand that those of us who live in North America in the 21st century simply do not live like most of the rest of the world lives – or has ever lived. 

The average person in Jesus’ day might only eat meat once a week, and had to draw water almost daily from a local well in order to have drinking water. In much of the world today, it is the responsibility of women and children to walk sometimes a mile or more each way – to carry jugs of water back to their homes for their daily needs. In such an environment, hunger and thirst take on a much more urgent meaning than they often do for us! To be hungry means to ache for food and nourishment with all that you are. To be thirsty means to long for water as for life itself – because, indeed, without it you would perish.

Hunger and thirst, then, are among the most powerful motivating forces in all of human experience. This is why modern coaches tell athletes to be “hungry” for victory; and why advertising campaigns urge people to “obey your thirst.” 

Jesus is saying that we will be filled with what we are hungry and thirsty for. If we are hungry and thirsty for what the world defines as success – money, status, popularity – then that’s what will fill our hearts and minds. If, on the other hand, we are hungry and thirsty for God – then he will fill us with himself and his righteousness.

Years ago rock star Bruce Springsteen wrote a song entitled, “Everybody’s got a Hungry Heart.” I think Jesus would agree! The question is what are we hungry for? Ask God to cause your heart to hunger and thirst for him over everything else!

Brian Coffey

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

This verse is how the Sermon on the Mount begins. It is Jesus’ opening line for the greatest sermon ever preached. You may remember that to be poor in spirit means to have an accurate view of yourself in relation to God. It means to understand your spiritual condition apart from him; if to be poor is to be in great need, then to be poor in spirit is to be in desperate need of God. The passages we will meditate and reflect on throughout this week (Matt. 5:38-48) is really just a deeper explanation by Jesus, of what it means to be poor in spirit. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:38-39

Jesus is referring here to the part of the Old Testament law that dealt with retribution and justice, in other words, setting the wrongs right. We actually find the words “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) referring to the civil or national law of retaliation. This law protected the innocent and guaranteed thelimits of retaliation. It made sure that the punishment fit the crime. If someone knocked out your tooth, you had the right to knock out his tooth (but you could not smash in all of his teeth!) This law prevented the offended person from taking law into his own hands and using any retaliation he wanted. 

This kind of thing may sound harsh to our modern ears, but it was actually very wise and merciful. It was wise in that it took into consideration the natural human tendency to want revenge more than justice. (If somebody hurts me, I want to hurt him even more.) It was merciful in that it sought to prevent personal vendettas and vigilante justice. The law was given to the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. It was to be a moral civil code, enforced by the appointed leaders of God’s people. It was never intended to give individuals permission to exact personal revenge. 

When you first read Jesus’ teaching on this concept, it sounds almost like he is contradicting this ‘eye for an eye’ principle. He seems to be saying that we should just go ahead and let them poke our eyes out!? In order to get what Jesus is really saying here, we have to understand what the Pharisees and Rabbis were teaching at that time. They (the Scribes and Pharisees) had extended this principle of retribution intended for the legal system to the realm of personal relationships. They were using the law to justify personal revenge, which was the very thing it was intended to prevent!

The Bible clearly teaches us not to seek personal vengeance. 

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. - Romans 12:19 

This is why Jesus teaches us to lay down our desire to get even, surrender our need to make the other person pay, even relinquish our rights of retribution. We are to leave all of that in the hands of the authorities, and ultimately in the hands of our God. 

If you are wondering how you will ever find the inner strength to live this way, consider Jesus himself for a moment. He is the ultimate example of one who voluntarily set aside his rights for the sake of another. He is the one person in the universe who could have exacted retribution and be justified in doing so, yet he surrendered himself into the hands of sinful men and gave himself up for us!

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
- 1 Peter 2:23

Have you been wronged by someone?

Are you looking for some way to get even with them or teach them a lesson?

Are you wishing they would pay for what they did to you?

Lord Jesus, you gave up your rights so that we might have life. Help us to surrender our hearts to you and to leave all of our desire for self-defense, self-justification and self-preservation at the foot of your cross – Amen.

Pastor Jeff Frazier