December 1 – Open Letters – Depression

Read 1 Samuel 2:2

Dear Depression,

It is safe to say that you and I have an on-again off-again relationship. When you come back into my life, you hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like a tug of war in my head; you’re on one side and Truth from God’s Word is on the other side…pulling, back and forth, as I sit in the middle and the dust from the struggle fills my mind as I wait for clarity.

You are a part of my story, my history. However, when you come for a visit, I am not me. I forget who I am and whose I am.

We met when I was a young child and I trained myself to depend on you through tough times. Yet, here I am, almost 30 years old, a believer and follower of Christ and someone who walks in the Truth that His Word is authoritative. I believe He IS Good but, when you are here, you come as life hits and it’s hard to get out of the hole that is you.

BUT…

That authoritative Truth, the words that are proclaimed by a powerful God, are mine too – verses that were a result of hard lessons learned alongside you and Him.

And so… when you come to visit, I will repeat them more to myself. Every time I need to step out of the hole or get up from between the tug of war, I will walk to His side and depend on His clarity. You may have won this battle before, but the war has already been won and I am no longer enslaved to the words that come along with your presence.

So I will say…

“There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed, there is no one besides You.  Nor is there any rock like our God” – 1 Samuel 2:2

“Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplication. The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him.” – Psalm 28:6-7

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You” – Isaiah 26:3

You may come for a visit, you may come to fill the space around me with lies but my God is good and He is my rock.

November 30 – Open Letters – Anger

Read James 1:19-20

In the coming days, you are going to be reading some Open Letters that our team has written to emotions, struggles and issues that we have either observed or experienced. It is our prayer that these letters will encourage you, if you are struggling with the same, to see and experience healing and deliverance through Jesus. He is and always will be the solution to our problems. However, our problems are still a struggle within us.

Allow me to share such a struggle from my life:

Dear Anger,

There’s no real reason why you play such a big role in my life. I wasn’t raised in an angry household. Through my many years of church attendance, I have been surrounded by many people who are loving and supportive. Regardless, I have always been someone that allows you to control much more of my life than you deserve.

Experiences in Jr. High and High School didn’t help. Being an afterthought to many people, being told I wasn’t strong enough…tough enough. Being told eye-to-eye that, “You don’t have what it takes…”. I have often allowed you to well up to the surface and to hurt people that I love the most. Because of the damage you caused, I feel like apologizing to people I’ve hurt over and over. They deserved better.

I was freed from you.

James tells us in his letter:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

You do not produce the righteousness that God desires. I’m done giving you control in my life. I live to serve my Lord. I will continue to challenge myself to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to give in to you. I will learn to forgive as others have forgiven me. The people who caused me such pain are your children as well. If you have forgiven me, why shouldn’t I forgive them?

I am dedicating myself to pursuing the righteousness that God desires. I won’t allow the small things to matter so much. I’m done with allowing my past to define my future. God has created me for so much more than you.

My past won’t define me. You will not define me.

Allow me to conclude this letter by quoting a song lyric:

“Here’s to a past I’ll never need
No ‘here’s to you’
Rest in peace”

November 29 – 10 Commandments – Don’t Covet

Read Exodus 20:17

“Covet” is a strange word that is not used very much these days but is practiced all the time.  

According to the dictionary, “covet” is a verb that means “to yearn to possess or have something.”  God first lists your neighbor’s house and wife but goes on to include anything that belongs to your neighbor.  That can be possessions, positions in life, perceived happiness, talent, fame, or fortune. It goes beyond just the old practice of “keeping up with the Joneses.” It is a yearning, a feeling of intense longing for something.  

When feelings get intense, one usually takes action to get whatever it is they want.  Does that lead to adultery, robbery,  or despair? Despair leads to heartache and pain. The underlying cause is that one is not happy with their OWN life, talents, possessions, or status in life.

Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar business to make you covet the lives of their stars. Magazine covers, commercials, movies, tv and award shows are there to promote the “rich and famous.”  They are filled with pictures of grand mansions, beautiful clothes, thin bodies, luxury cars,  and diamond jewelry just to increase your yearning for more and more things. However, a closer look into the private lives of the rich and famous tells a completely different story of broken marriages, failed relationships, fake friendships, drugs, alcohol, and rehab and all for what?

There is nothing wrong with being inspired by people around you.  In fact, I remember thinking at my cousin’s college graduation, “If she can do it, so can I!”  So I went back to college and finished getting my degree!

Inspiration often means putting forth an effort to change or improve.   Inspiration + perspiration = success.  Coveting has the connotation of not earning what you want but wasting your time wishing for more and not being happy with what you do have. 

Some of the nicest and happiest people I know live in small homes, drive old cars, and their kids wear hand me down clothes. They might not have many material things, but they do have one thing that no amount of money can buy.  They have a close relationship with their Lord and Savior Jesus and their Heavenly Father! With that, they can close their eyes each night with a clear conscience and a blessed assurance that God is watching over them and their family.  No matter what life might throw their way, God is in control and will see them through it all.

Like George Bailey at the end of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, when he didn’t get all the things he THOUGHT he wanted and nearly lost everything he already HAD, he found out that, with all the people who loved him, he was the “richest man in the world.”

Don’t throw away what God has given you, searching for happiness next door when happiness is right there in your own back yard!

Give thanks for what you have!

Pat Arnold

November 28 – 10 Commandments – Don’t Lie

(Today’s devotional is borrowed from the You Version plan, “The Ten Commandments: A 10-Day Devotional”.)

Read Exodus 20:16 and Proverbs 18:17.

The ninth commandment doesn’t cover just courtroom infractions. It deals with all manner of falsehoods. Throughout the Ten Commandments we’ve seen that God cares about justice. Why would He make laws against murder except that He cares about each person made in His image? Why would He make laws against stealing except that He cares about the right of private property? Here we see that God cares deeply about verbal justice. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just isn’t true. Lies hurt people deeply. This command was meant to protect marriages, property, life, reputation, and honor.

Why is telling the truth so important? It’s important because it is the nature of God himself. “The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (1 Sam. 15:29). What makes God *God* and not human? One answer is that He doesn’t lie—ever. “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). As Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It’s the nature of God himself.

Reflect

How is motive a factor in breaking or keeping the ninth commandment?

November 27 – 10 Commandments – Steal

Read Exodus 20:15

Looking back on my childhood, one of the things that I am most grateful for is that we were raised modestly. We didn’t have all the newest toys and gadgets but we always had what we needed. Sure, there were times where I wanted to get my hands on the newest PlayStation that my friends had or a smartphone when I still had a “dumb phone”. However, I never allowed those thoughts to resonate too much because there was a certain peace with being content.

That way of thinking has continued to be present as I have continued to grow older. When the new PlayStation 5 came out with a $500 price tag, I literally laughed out loud and said there was no chance I would get one anytime soon.

Every parent wants to give their kids what they want but, I would argue a better way of thinking and parenting is teaching and building contentment in the heart of your children and the next generation.

The command to not steal is another one of the “duh” commands through which we don’t need to explain much. We can all agree that taking something that doesn’t belong to you is wrong.

When you take the time to think deeper about the physical act of stealing, what causes one to do that?

Discontentment.

When you aren’t happy with what it is you have, you begin to entertain the thought of getting your hands on a better version of your outdated version…and who doesn’t like something that’s free?

While we can all agree that we shouldn’t steal, I will take my challenge a step further: in what way can you grow in your contentment with what God has given you?

Do you need to think about the people who aren’t lucky enough to have what you do? When you begin to think about a “first world problem” that you have, think about the amount of people who would do just about anything for what you aren’t content with.

Take a moment and think about the things you aren’t content with and change your discontent mindset to one of gratitude. Many people around the world are happy with what they have and it turns out to be a fraction of what you do.

Thank God for what you have and pray about ways that you can show contentment to those around you as well as opportunities to use what you have to further His Kingdom.

Jake Lawson

November 26 – 10 Commandments – Adultery

Read Exodus 20:14 and Galatians 5:19-22

“It’s the second glance that ties your hands.”

Casting Crowns

The following is an excerpt from the book EVERY MAN’S BATTLE: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time:

“After training my eyes to look away, I was sunbathing with my wife on a Florida beach. My wife, Brenda, called my attention to a bikini-clad woman approaching us. ‘Fred, look! You won’t believe this’. I turned to look but initially I couldn’t. My good habits that I had developed had become so strong that I had to force my eyes to look.”

The book’s authors (Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker) write that the first defense against lust is with your eyes and so we need to employ the strategy of bouncing your eyes. You can train your eyes to bounce away from individuals, images etc. If you bounce your eyes for six weeks, it becomes a habit and you can win this war.

Bounce away to prevent a slow, negative fade. Pursue sexual purity!

If you train your eyes to bounce and eliminate the visual stimuli and leave no food for the mental fantasies, the sexual attractions that can draw your mind to lust in the situations can be broken.

Eliminate your visual stimuli.

“But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.”

Proverbs 6:32

As one of the 10 Commandments, adultery refers to sexual relations between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse and is mentioned 40 times in the Bible. The Bible is clear about the commitment of marriage and the purity that must be maintained in the midst of it. In the age of the smart phone, problems can develop when pornography is viewed.

Is this lust a slow fade into adultery? Is it a gateway to something much worse?

The Bible says that God shows mercy to those who repent and turnaround from their sins—including adultery. (Acts 3:19). To repent is to turn from sin leading to a change in life. 

In fact, the Bible talks about men and women who stopped committing adultery and later became God’s friends (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Is this an area that you struggle with or have before? Seek forgiveness from God and other necessary parties and commit to tighten up your life so you aren’t exposed to any gateway sins.

Tom Weckesser

Casting Crowns – Slow Fade

November 25 – 10 Commandments – Murder

Read Exodus 20:13

“You shall not murder!”

Wow, you can’t get any plainer than that!  Don’t murder, take someone’s else’s life, stab, jab, shoot…murder!

You might be thinking “I could never do that!”  That’s good, and I think it’s safe to say that not many of us struggle with identifying murder as wrong and have not committed it in the past.

However, do you commit murder without even knowing it?

We kill other people’s spirits, reputations, faith, all the time without even giving it a second thought.

As I am writing this, there is a news report on TV about false stories that were published about a man.  Now he has to try to prove they were false, if he wants to get his life back, while the person who started the rumors will go on to destroy other people’s lives!  They just destroyed a person’s reputation.  Isn’t THAT murder?  

What if it happened to a less wealthy person who couldn’t afford lawyers? What if they would have been so distraught that they committed suicide or decided “What is the use?” and turned to a life of drinking or other harmful behaviors?  

Isn’t THAT murder too?

Gossip hurts and sometimes kills. 

How about your words?  How about the way you talk to people or about them? Do you use your words to encourage others? Maybe a struggling single parent or a confused teen?  Or do you choose to criticize the way they look or speak or act?  What about the person who might be less well educated than you and uses “poor English”? Do you look down on them, tune them out, KILL their ideas?  Treat them like they don’t exist?

Thou shall not kill!

Thou shall not tramp on spirits, kill thoughts, destroy reputations, make fun of, ignore, etc.

It is so easy to listen to or join in on a gossip session, to join in with people who love to cut down others, to talk about someone else’s parenting skills or children.  But remember their claws can easily be turned on you when you are not around.  

I enjoy watching murder mystery shows on TV. It is fun playing detective and see if I can figure out “who did it” and why. I have found that almost always the true motives of the criminals were jealousy, greed, or fear that their other crimes will be exposed.  Plus, there is usually a person or several persons who could have stopped it.

So, when you find yourself in the middle of a gossip session or hearing of someone being slandered, take a step back, put on your detective hat and ask:

                1) Who is being murdered?

                2) What is the motive? Greed, jealousy or fear etc.

                3) What can I do to stop it?

“Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”

Leviticus 19:16

Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. 

THOU SHALL NOT KILL!

I pray the murderer isn’t you!

Pat Arnold

November 24 – 10 Commandments – Honor your Father and Mother

Read Exodus 20:12

There are but a few people that, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be even close to where I am today. There are a few people that I owe so much to because of what they have done for me throughout my life and the monumental impact they have made in my life.

Two of those people are my parents.

God blessed me beyond measure to grow up in a house with the two of them. The life lessons they have taught, the patience they exhibited, the tears they counseled through, the laughs that were shared. While no parent is perfect, Mom and Dad have fulfilled their duty as parents in an incredible way. To this day, I still cherish the times we are able to be around one another. Now, being able to see them hold their grandkids, brings a tear to my eye because their diligence and faithfulness continues to pay off.

Outside of a few rebellious teenage years, I never really had an issue with honoring Mom and Dad. They were in positions of authority in my life and I quickly found out that life was more enjoyable when I did what they said. While we never had a ball and chain, when Mom and Dad said something, we were better off obeying it.

However, my relationship with Mom and Dad changed on March 12, 2016 when I married a Florida native named Kelly. As strange as it was, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t “under” Mom and Dad anymore…Kelly and I were our own relationship.

Are there things that Kelly and I do that Mom and Dad wouldn’t? I’m sure.

Are there decisions Kelly and I have made that Mom and Dad would have handled differently? I’m betting so.

However, honoring Mom and Dad in this season means still loving and caring for them and continuing to respect them. While Kelly and I make our own decisions, we honor Mom and Dad by choosing to run things past them because we respect their opinion.

The elephant in the room is that not everyone has a good relationship with their parents. You may be reading this and you haven’t spoken to your parents in years and can’t bear to handle their nit-picking of every aspect of your life.

While I can’t speak directly to your situation, all I know is that there is no clause in Exodus 20:12. Regardless of your relationship with your parents, honoring them isn’t optional.

How do you do this?

How do you talk about your parents when they aren’t around? In what light do you paint them? Do you hold what they have said and done against them or have you forgiven them? Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting; it means not holding what they have said and done against them anymore. I know people who have done exactly this and they have certainly earned my respect for doing so.

In what way can you continue to honor your parents or in what way can you start today?

Jake Lawson

November 23 – 10 Commandments – Take a day off

Read Exodus 20:8-11

When I was younger, you could say I didn’t respect the ten commandments.

It wasn’t because I didn’t care, but because I didn’t understand them. I thought they were old rules for another time and didn’t pertain to me. 

Fast forward to the age of 23 and I learned the command to rest all too well. 

I was 2 years into being a fully surrendered follower of Jesus and in Bible school. I was one of the busiest people you would have ever come in contact with. Not only was I in an intense Bible school program but on my off-school days I worked, I was also a youth group leader, Bible study leader and had a very busy social life. I was someone who HAD to keep a calendar because I never said no.

One of the running jokes in Bible school was that I was going to become the church’s assistant because of all of the things I was able to keep together and still have time to sleep. I didn’t understand the meaning of rest and only did it when I had no other plans.

However, it came with a cost. 

A year after my Bible school ended, I was working in a full-time job and still trying to maintain a busy lifestyle. Through many conversations with mentors and friends that I trusted, I learned that this life with no rest cost me some valuable relationships as well as the truth that I wasn’t honoring the Lord with my time. 

Now, what I was doing was honoring and glorifying Jesus; however, it wasn’t His best for me and that, in turn, wasn’t a pleasing sacrifice. I learned that, through rest, it wasn’t only about “taking a break” but about reflecting in gratitude. It was about spending some time quiet before Him and just BEING rather than DOING.

I learned that, if I can’t just BE for one day, then I won’t be able to DO to the best of my ability the rest of the days. 

So much of our culture is “go go go”. We never stop, we never take a break, and we fill our time with things that keep our brains and bodies moving without a second thought. But have you ever stopped to think, “What happens if I just stay still? If I don’t go out or spend my time doing this or that, but rather what will happen if I stay home and just exist within my relationship with the Lord?!”

It’s a very “out there” notion, but a notion to consider all the same. 

As now, a mom of two, I can attest, it is a different season of rest. I walk with Jesus hand in hand as I take care of our newborn; that is my rest. I walk with Jesus hand-in-hand as I watch our four-year-old run around outside; that is my rest. I walk with Jesus hand-in-hand as I clean our house or fold the laundry; that is rest. 

My rest looks very different than it did before we had kids, but my heart’s motive is to just BE with Jesus and not DO! 

I pray that over you. 

Kelly Lawson

November 22 – 10 Commandments – The Lord’s name in vain

Read Exodus 20:7 and Philippians 2:9-11

There is an importance on names. When it comes to a family, the name carries a certain weight to it.

I don’t know where this trend started in our family, but my grandpa’s name is Ronald (I honestly don’t know his middle name). My Dad’s first and middle name is David Ronald with mine being Jacob David. I was under no pressure to continue doing this when I found out Kelly and I (mostly Kelly) were having a baby boy but I wanted to keep the train rolling so our son’s name is Matthew Jacob.

Now, I’m not sure our name holds much power. I would hope that, when you hear the names of anyone in our family, you are shocked and amazed and standing in awe.

On the other hand, Paul writes this in his letter to Philippi:

“Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place an gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The name of God is quite literally awe inspiring. Paul writes that, at the mention of it, every single knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus is God.

This means that every person who went to their grave doubting God, who spent their lives cursing the very existence of God and saying any number of heinous things about Him, will, at the mention of His name, drop to their knees and confess that He is who He said He was.

There is power in a name.

That is why God Himself told Moses that His name should be revered, not taken in vain because, as one commentary reads:

“…God’s name is powerful, when we take the name ‘Christian’ upon ourselves, we must do so with an understanding of all that it signifies.

If we profess to be Christians, but act, think and speak in a worldly or profane manner, we take His name in vain. When we misrepresent Christ, either intentionally or through ignorance of the Christian faith as proclaimed in Scripture, we take the Lord’s name in vain. When we say we love Him, but do not do what He commands, we take His name in vain and are possibly identifying ourselves to be among those to whom Christ will say, “I never knew you” in Matthew 7:21-23.

The name of the Lord is Holy, as He is Holy. The name of the Lord is a representation of His glory, His majesty, and His supreme deity. We are to esteem and honor His name as we revere and glorify God Himself.

To do any less is to take His name in vain.

Are you holding God’s name in high regard in your life? Are you representing God the best way that you can? Are you being who you claim to be?

All of this goes into the 3rd command in Leviticus 20 to “not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Jake Lawson