I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.
All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
– Psalm 138

Things I am thankful for: Kristi, Ava, Kenzie, family, friends, church family, good health, Reese’s Pieces, basketball, and worship music.

I know what you’re thinking: “Here comes a generic Thanksgiving devotional.” You would be correct, if that is what you were thinking. But I hope that we can really consider what it means to be thankful for what we have.

On Thursday, friends and families will gather around a table and enjoy the company of each other. This alone is a rare occurrence these days. Life gets so busy, and holidays provide an opportunity for life to slow down and for us to remember the things that are truly important in life. My list above probably looks like many lists that will be written or discussed over the next couple of days. I am so thankful for Kristi, Ava, Kenzie and my entire family. It is a great blessing from the Lord to have the family that I have. Along with that, the church family at Faith is amazing. To be walking and growing with you all in our faith over these 9 years has been such a blessing. To know that God hasn’t called me to a job but to His ministry at Faith humbles me as He uses me.

This brings me to the part you probably thought was missing from my list above: God. It is important to remember that He has brought all those people and things into my life. Words cannot express the thankfulness I have for God. The sin in my life causes a division between me and God. However, God, in His love for me and for the world, sent His Son to die a death that we all deserved. It is in that death that I find forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. With God at the center of my life, everything else falls in line and He helps me understand all the blessings I have.

When we gather around our tables on Thursday, think first about God’s love. The people and things of this world are great, but there is something greater than anything we can imagine. The Psalm above reminds us of what God did for us, is doing for us, and what He will do for us.

Three Friends

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:16-18

In preparation for our two-year series of preaching through the whole Bible, I have been studying my way through the Old Testament and thinking about the stories, people, and how God worked His message throughout every book. The Book of Daniel probably has two of the most popular stories in its pages, and I want to explore one of those today.

As Daniel begins, we find the nation of Judah captives in Babylon. Remember, Judah had failed to keep God’s commands, so He brings King Nebuchadnezzar and his army to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem and Judah become captives of King Nebuchadnezzar. Many Israelites are taken to Babylon and this is where the book begins.

In chapter three we get the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three friends of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar has a huge golden image and has it placed within Babylon. Orders are given that as soon as the people hear music they are to stop what they’re doing and bow down and worship the idol. This is a problem for these three men; they serve the One True God and know that idol worship is forbidden. So, whenever the music plays and it’s time to bow down, they refuse and will not worship. This, as you can imagine, upsets the King and for punishment he has the three men thrown into a blazing furnace. But if you know the story you know that the three men are unharmed. The furnace is so hot that even the guards throwing the three men in are killed, yet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have no harm come upon them.

This is an amazing story of God’s protection and three men who were unwilling to compromise in their beliefs. Their response to the King is filled with confidence. They know that God is able to deliver them, but even if He doesn’t it won’t change what they believe. The men understand they could be killed but that doesn’t change anything for them. Church History is filled with believers who lost their lives because of the Truth. Even today believers around the world face death from their government or other powers. It is not to this same extent but we can face difficult times because of God’s truth, but like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we need to be willing to take a stand even in difficult times.

God is Awesome

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
– The Doxology

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
– Psalm 86:12

Have you ever been struck by the awesomeness of God? What I mean is, have you ever seen something, usually in creation, that just makes you stop and praise God? I can remember quite a few in my life that I want to share with you.

The first time I really remember seeing the stars in all their beauty was once when Kristi and I were driving from Iowa to Colorado during Spring Break. It was dark and I was resting in the backseat, while Kristi was driving. We were probably in Eastern Colorado or Nebraska at the time and it was very dark outside, with nothing to illuminate the sky except for the stars. I was amazed at what I saw. So many stars in the sky, an amount that I had never seen before. I was struck by the awesomeness of God in creation. All I could do was offer praise to the God that created it all.

Another time was when Ava came into the world. Holding my firstborn in my arms was a feeling I will never forget. Months were spent in preparation making sure we had everything we needed. But while holding Ava, all the preparation seemed useless. I was now a father to this new life, and God has given me the task of raising her and telling her about His greatness. Here was such an amazing gift from God and again it just made me stop and think about the awesomeness of God. Again, all praise was due to Him, the Creator of everything.

The Doxology above is an old Christian hymn that comes to my mind quite often in those moments when I am struck by how great God is. All I can do is praise the one from where all blessings come. One prayer I have is that I never get bored with the thought of God. That I will always be in praise to God, who has blessed me with more than I could ever imagine. David in Psalm 86 reminds us of this very thing, that we should praise God forever and with all our heart. He deserves all that and more; He is worthy of it all. Our God is awesome. Praise Him today, tomorrow, and forever.

October 31, 1517

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
– Romans 3:28

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed….” Martin Luther 95 Theses Introduction

On Tuesday October 31st children will walk their neighborhoods and ask for free candy. However, within the Christian faith, October 31, 1517 plays a significant role in shaping the church life that we know today. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg. Luther in his studies realized that many of the teachings of the Catholic Church were not supported in Scripture.

Luther took issue with the selling of indulgences. Indulgences were basically fundraisers for the Catholic Church; in one case it was raising money to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Raising money for such a large project certainly sounds reasonable, until you realize that by giving money people believed they were basically buying remission of the punishment of sin! There is even more involved in this practice, but Luther looked at this practice and knew that this is not what Scripture taught. Luther also took issue with the Pope forgiving sins (only God forgives), purgatory, and the use of sacraments (prayers, giving, fasting, and pilgrimage) as ways of forgiving sins as well. The traditions of the Catholic Church had taken on the same weight as the truth of Scripture.

Luther said that Scripture should be the only place where the church should find the basis for its practices. Luther also reintroduced the fact that salvation comes by faith alone, not by the works or sacraments that one performs. It is these two points that would begin to reform the church: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and Sola fida (faith alone). As you can imagine life after October 31st got rough for Luther; he faced much backlash and was even called a heretic. But he knew he had truth on his side and this moment began the period of the Protestant Reformation separating from the Catholic Church.

We gather on Sundays in part because of what Luther stood for on that day. Faith Fellowship Church stands on the two principles of salvation by faith and Scripture being the only source for practices within the church. I’d encourage you over the next week to look into Martin Luther’s actions 500 years ago and be encouraged by his seeking of truth. We realize that it doesn’t matter what your background is in the faith, all need to hear about the free gift of salvation that is offered to all through faith.

The Early Church

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12

The class I am currently taking online through Liberty University is Church History. The first part of the class has covered the time period just after the Disciples up until the fourteenth century. I have found it to be the most enjoyable class that I have taken so far in my graduate studies. To hear about the faith of the early church leaders who carried on the instructions of Jesus to take the Gospel and make disciples. Their commitment to the Word of God should be inspiring to us today. They faced widespread persecution within the Roman Empire, yet in spite of the many that lost their lives for the faith, teaching and disciple making continued.

The persecution finally stopped in 313 A.D. when Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal. The focus of the early church was now on the various false teachings that had been going on. Biblical truth needed to be known and taught, there was no room for false teachings that would lead people astray.

Much of the false teaching focused on Christ. False teachers taught that, Jesus wasn’t really God, or that He isn’t eternal, He was created by God. They were weakening the view of Christ as the God-Man, who is eternal, and the sacrifice who paid the penalty for our sins. Even today people will talk about Jesus as only a good teacher, or someone who lived a good life but wasn’t really God. Just like the early church we need to stand up for the truth of Scripture and what it teaches about Christ.

Things got so bad with false teachers that in the year 325 A.D. Constantine gathered together the early church leaders and they discussed and sought out the Scriptures to come up with a universal teaching about Christ. Their work is actually a part of our Statement of Faith as a church, The Nicene Creed. These men read the Scriptures and saw how the Scriptures described Jesus.

We need to be in God’s Word as well. Currently, we are studying the Book of James, and starting in 2018, we will begin a two year series of preaching through the entire Bible. The obvious question is “why?” The answer is because we need to know God’s Word and what it teaches. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes from church history. We need to have a solid foundation so we can teach and live in a way that honors God; this is what James is all about!

We are thankful for those that have come before us, and we are mindful of those that are coming after us. Let’s continue in the instructions of Christ by learning, teaching and making disciples.

Nothing Earned

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.” – Galatians 3:1-5

Everything in life trains us to think that we work hard, and because of that work we earn something. At work, we work hard to earn a raise and promotion. One of the complaints against the millennial generation is that they just want everything given to them so they don’t have to work for anything. But that just is not the way it works, right? We work hard to get everything.

However, when it comes to salvation, we simply believe.

As believers we can fall into the trap of focusing on the things that we need to earn our salvation; it’s something we have all done. This is what Paul is addressing here in Galatians and it’s also what James has already addressed in our study of James. Paul, during his first missionary journey (Acts 14), visits a few cities in the Galatia area and preaches the message of the cross. However, after Paul left, some Jewish Christians came in and started preaching about following the law for salvation.

Paul uses what might seem like some rather harsh language. Twice he calls them foolish. Paul cannot believe that they have so quickly forgotten the message of the cross that was preached to them. The Galatians allowed themselves to be poorly influenced by false teachers who preached a different gospel. We can try and work all we want but it’s never going to be enough. All we will do is end up worn out and tired. Instead, God gives us you salvation freely when we accept the work of His Son on the cross.

When you combine this teaching with what we have been learning in James you get the perfect picture of what our Christian life should look like. With Paul we know that we belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. Then from James we learn that we should live a life that is worthy of the gift we have been given. Our faith affects how we view the trials and temptations of life. We listen and do what the word says regarding how we treat people, how we talk with people, and how we submit to God.

Paul calls out the Galatians, and calls them to remember the message of the cross. May the message of the cross always be in the front of our minds.

A Broken World

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Roman 8:18

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” – Romans 8:22

If your week has been like mine you have spent time thinking about the tragedy in Las Vegas. What a heartbreaking event for the families that have been affected by the death of loved ones who were simply enjoying a concert. The reaction on Facebook and the media outlets has been a desire to pray for those affected but also to try and understand why a tragedy like this happened. This is not the first tragedy here or around the world, and sadly we all know it won’t be the last.

People are responding with shock that an event like this could occur; the family of the shooter as well is shocked and in a state of confusion over the whole event. While many answers may never come, we as the church can understand the unseen power of this world that is behind tragedies such as this and others.

We live every day in a world that sees the good in people and thinks that while there are some bad things are in this world, the amount of good outweighs the bad. But then an event like this happens and we are all confronted with the evil that is present in the world. Remember, the Bible does not speak of the world we live in as good. In fact, if we take a Biblical approach to there is nothing good in this world except for God. The Bible says that we are all sinners, and that there is no one that does good. This is a hard truth to understand but it shines a light on the fact that there is only one solution to the evil that is present.

Jesus is the only hope for the broken and painful world that we live in. In my own personal life, I cannot even imagine living life apart from God, His Son, and the hope they provide. This week, pray for those who have lost family and loved ones, that they would find peace. Also pray for the people around the world or even in our own neighborhoods and families who do not understand the love of our God who sent His Son into this world to save it from all its sin. We also need to think about the love that we show to others. It is often after tragedies like what happened in Las Vegas that a door is open for conversations about the solution to the pain in this world. Tragedies like this make life hard, but we look to Christ knowing that a day is coming on which ultimately the pain and suffering will be gone for those who believe.

Pour Out Our Praise

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
    sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” – Psalm 66:1-4

In my head this week has been the song we often sing during worship, “Great are You Lord.” The lyrics are pretty simple:

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, you restore
Every heart that is broken

Great are You Lord, It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise, Pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise to You only

And all the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, These bones will sing
Great are You, Lord

Life can get so confusing and painful when we look at all that is happening within this country and all around the world. I find it helpful to find my peace, life, and hope in God. In Psalm 66 we hear about the praise we should offer to God because of His great deeds. We know that God has a plan in his workings and we trust His goodness and direction. In the song, we sing about God bringing light into the darkness; often in the darkest moments is when God shines the brightest. Trusting in the unseen can be a hard thing to do. We want to see the answers, we want to hear the answers, but often that doesn’t happen. We should long for the day when Christ will return and rid this world of brokenness and pain.  We also give praise because God is the reason for our life, He gives the very breath in our lungs, and with that breathe we breathe out words of praise and thankfulness to God. For, all these reasons and many more God deserves our praise, thankfulness, and full attention. Let’s pour out our praise for God, and also remember those who are going through moments where it’s hard to praise.

Listening and Doing

“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes…’Go inquire of the Lord for me and the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.’” 2 Kings 22: 11,13

“The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations, and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.” 2 Kings 23:3

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

This never happens in the Warner household, but on occasion I hear stories of children who do not listen to their parents. Sometimes parents will repeat themselves over and over and over and over again, yet still children will not respond and follow their parents’ instructions. Of course I’m kidding; this situation may have even played out Wednesday morning in our house. What usually happens next is the parent gets upset with the child and maybe even punishes the child. Let’s say for example this child loses the use of an Ipad for two days (just hypothetically speaking of course). The child gets upset and usually the final conversation ends with “If you had just listened the first time you would not be getting punished, right now.”

The situation was similar for the people of Judah during the time of Second Kings. This is during the time of the divided Kingdom and Judah is constantly running into issues for falling away from the Lord and not listening to His Words. Similar to the situation in Judges that was written about last week.

During the reign of King Josiah, there is construction going on at the Temple, in Judah. The workers find the Book of the Law, which apparently had been lost. King Josiah has the Law read out loud to him and he immediately realizes that the nation has not been following and keeping the Lord’s instructions. In chapter twenty three he gathers the nation and has the whole Law read to the people. When hearing the Law, King Josiah and all the people pledge to follow the Law completely, to listen and follow what it says.

James in our section for this week is going to lay out a very simple instruction, yet we know how hard it can really be. James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” This could almost be a direct quote to the previously mentioned child, but in reality it’s a command from God to His people. I get frustrated when my kids do not listen to me, but in the same way I know I can frustrate God when I act in a way that goes against His Word.

Some of what the Bible says: Be quick to listen, slow to speak; get rid of all moral filth, and evil; keep tight rein on your tongue; be humble; love your enemies; be in fellowship with believers; care for the poor and weak; flee sexual immorality; meditate on His Word. That’s just a small list of all that God wants from us. Are we ignoring God and not doing what His Word says? That is a challenge we all face. Let’s be obedient to God’s Word, and like the nation of Judah, pledge to follow His instruction. The challenge is great, but that it is why we are a fellowship of believers, helping to encourage, and strengthen each other to become more like Christ in following our heavenly Father.

Starting Anew

“Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord…” Judges 3:12

“Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 3:7

“Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8

If you have children, they are probably all back to school this week. It is the start of a new school year. There are new teachers, new friends, new classes, and maybe even a new school. I can remember before my first day of school there would be new clothes and shoes purchased for the coming school year. It is a fresh and new start; last year is over and we’re on to a new year.

The Israelites in the Old Testament often found themselves starting anew after a time of not following God and His commands. This pattern is seen frequently in the Book of Judges. The Israelites do well for a certain time period, then they begin to fall away. Because of their failures God brings in a foreign nation to punish the nation, the people cry out for help, and then God sends a Judge to free the people from the rule of the foreign nation. At that point the people turn back to God and start following Him again. And the same circle repeats itself over and over in Judges.

Life is full of high and lows. The excitement over the first day of school quickly fades as the homework and assignments start rolling in. The job that seemed perfect at first soon becomes something you may dread. The excitement of life comes and goes and maybe you find yourself in a situation today that leaves you empty and wanting more. What happened to the excitement you once had? Often times it’s a falling away from what God has asks us to do.

So, while the children are starting a new school year, what new start do you need to have with God?