July 8 – United: Country – Titus 3

Read Titus 3:1-15

I often think of good works of my Grandma Smith. Having been raised in a single parent home after my father died when I was only in 3rd grade, I spent many hours in my grandmother’s care. She would watch me after school and over the summer when my mom was working. She was a woman of few words, but it was her actions that spoke the loudest to me. Time and time again she opened her house to us when mom was struggling financially. Yet, I don’t remember her ever getting mad at me no matter how many times I raced through her clean house or the freshly laundered sheets hanging on the clothes line in the back yard.   I do remember her literally piling us and all our friends one on top of another in her old car (this was before seat belts) to make sure we went to Bible School each year. Why? Why was that so important to her?  If the church doors were open, she was there making mincemeat, helping with rummage sales or any other project. I don’t know about her spiritual journey, conversion or why she was compelled to service. I really wish I did.

But I have an idea.

Grandma’s life hadn’t been easy. She had had 2 marriages. Her first husband had deserted her and her second husband (my grandpa)  had been a violent alcoholic.  She had to basically raise 9 kids on her own.  She finally divorced my grandpa but then remarried him a few years later, and they stayed married until his death several years later. That forgiveness story is lost with time but it must have been an interesting one! Is that why she dedicated her life to serving people and her church?

Another hint to the answer is also one of my fondest memories of Grandma’s house.  It was her giant family Bible that she read from every morning. It was huge and was always lying open on her dining room table. I was just little and couldn’t read it myself, but I knew what was written in it from watching Grandma.  She put those words that I couldn’t read into action!

Her service model has been handed down through generation after generation. All of her own children, grandchildren and even most of her great, great grandchildren are involved in their own churches or some kind of ministry. She would be humbly proud of them.

What will your family, friends and neighbors remember about you? What does your love for the Lord look like in action? Will they see that love through their memories of your actions? Will they replicate it in serving others as well?

Patricia Arnold

 

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July 7 – United: Country – Acts 2

Read Acts 2:38-47

I married my opposite. Just last night we were having a heated “discussion.” We want the same things but the expanse between us is like trekking through a briar patch. I always get my feelings hurt. He always has a strong opinion expressed in a stern tone. He’s kind, but intense and I want to escape. It’s been our pattern for 38 years.

I know…that’s a long time. I used to say Jesus is the glue that holds us together. Now I say, surrender to Jesus is the glue that holds us together. After all of these years, through smooth waters and briar patches, we are still each other’s favorite people. Being able to let go of offenses and move our preferences behind what Jesus wants can feel impossible, but, by God’s grace, it is possible, and we have a pretty beautiful relationship.

Acts 2 tells us the believers enjoyed the favor of all the people. That’s a tall order. Favor isn’t given out easily. How did these Jesus followers not only gain the notice of their community but also their favor?

In verse 38, Peter told the people, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Ahhh…the precious Holy Spirit. He is our unifier, the source of our life change, our surrender, and our belonging. The Spirit takes a church full of opposites and unites them in purpose and power. If they will let Him.

If they will remain steadfast in remembering what they have in common. If they will lay down offenses, preferences, and disappointments and trade them for Spirit led lives devoted to the truth, to fellowship and prayer, and to sharing with anyone in need. These believers were experiencing the power of the Spirit and were full of generosity and consistency. All the good fruit of the Spirit was wrapped up in their glad and sincere hearts full of praise. Sounds like a pretty healthy body to be a part of, doesn’t it?

We can be sure they had differences, but in their grace-rooted surrender they found some glue to hold them together. In their submission and obedience to the same Spirit, they shared common desires and goals. Their uncommon actions were renowned for being full of love and faithfulness. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The whole reason the church is on the planet!

We have to get this right. I’ve never witnessed a more divided world, and worse yet, splintered body of Christ. Satan is loving our division and the Holy Spirit is grieving. I don’t want to be a part of that and our families, neighbors, country, and world deserve better from us. They’re longing to see the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives. It starts when we look in the mirror and ask God to reveal where we are a source of division instead of unity.

Ask Him who you need to get in touch with to restore your relationship and take a step toward unity? I know who I’m going to call.

Shelly Eberly

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July 6 – United: Country – Leviticus 19

Read Leviticus 19:11-18

The word ‘neighbor’ took on a whole new meaning when I started college my freshmen year at The University of Tampa. Growing up in Wooster, OH, “neighbor” to me meant the families that lived on the other side of our fence who by all societal accounts looked, acted, and believed a lot of the same things I did. I realized quickly the same would not be the case at college, especially at a school that was made up of students primarily from out of state. In fact, my roommate was from Venezuela! Talk about a completely different perspective and outlook on life. Maybe you have the same outlook on “neighbor” as I did? If so, you aren’t alone.

All too often we can get caught up in believing that our neighbors are only the people we want to classify by that name. Much like how we afford someone the title of friend, culture has made it acceptable for us to make the same pronouncement on those we ‘see’ as neighbors. For instance, we might be inclined to say, “Oh yeah, that’s my neighbor” when talking about someone we like versus “oh yeah…that crazy family who lives up the street” when describing to the contrary. It has become all too easy for us to only heed the words of Scripture to treat your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) when ‘neighbor’ applies to people that might look, act, and believe like we do or, at the very least, folks we feel comfortable around.

While we may have a subjective view of what the word “neighbor” means, the Lord provides us with a much more objective definition in our passage today. He calls us to think differently and live differently. Our challenge isn’t to make our neighbors more like us; rather, He challenges us to treat our neighbors differently. In a world that pulls us apart and with an enemy that only seeks to divide- we are to be fair and treat all people equally (v. 15). We are to be champions of justice, standing up for those who are persecuted, and not exclusively those who share our same ideology or beliefs (v. 15). We are to be truth-tellers, positive speakers, and honest with our finances (v. 11, 16, 13). We are to be slow to anger and quick to show grace (v. 18). Frankly, this verse gives us a picture of how to be love in a broken world and how we are to treat fellow broken people.

Our world is broken. Our world is hurting. People are longing for justice, security, and, above all, love. Instead of contributing to the pain, the division, and the disunity, let us today choose to follow in the footsteps of the greatest unifier of all time, Jesus Christ, and point our neighbors to love. Love is the heartbeat of the gospel. Is your heart beating for love?

How might Jesus be tugging on your heartstrings today to be a better, more loving neighbor?

Taylor Bennington 

 

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July 5 – United: Country – Luke 10

Read Luke 10:25-37

Who is my neighbor?  That was a simple question asked of Jesus by a young expert in the law.   Did he really want to know the answer or was he hoping Jesus would confirm his own beliefs that one group of people was better than another?

As he often did, Jesus answered him with a parable. However, the hero of the story wasn’t who I am sure the young man suspected. Oh no!  Jesus chose a person from Samaria! He was one of “those people” who were labeled as  being “not worthy” merely because of their heritage.

This “terrible person” was the one who was able to rise above the bigotry and centuries long prejudices and go about doing what God had commanded everyone to do. That was to love your neighbor as yourself.  As it turned out, the Samaritan did not just help another Samaritan but went out of his way to help a complete stranger! This was done even when so called upstanding Jews not only walked past the hurt man,  but actually crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid him!

We are not born hating people and anyone who has spent any amount of time in an preschool or early childhood classroom can see little kids don’t see differences in people. They don’t care what color skin one has or who their ancestors are; they just want to be friends! They have to be taught to hate!

The Samaritan had been labeled as being bad purely for his heritage. Was he compassionate because he knew what it was like to be rejected and shunned? How would the story have been different if it were a priest who had been hurt and robbed?  Would this so called wise man have been foolish enough to have refused aid merely because of who it came from?

Labels are for bottles and cans and containers.  Labels aren’t made for people.  Labels on people are only there to divide!

Are you guilty of labeling people?  How about that smelly person in line at the grocery store?  You know, the one with the screaming kid in their cart in front of you!   What about the store employee who might not talk “right” or might walk ”funny?”  Maybe we need to rip off the labels we place on people and see what is really inside!  Then we can really love our neighbors as ourselves!

Patricia Arnold

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July 4 – United – Matthew 5 and James 5

Read Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12

“To be clear is to be kind. To be unclear is to be unkind”.

I first heard this phrase while studying interpersonal communication as a junior in college and was fascinated by the concept from a personal and professional stand point.

It was written by an author by the name of Brene Brown. She is a licensed social worker and professor who has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. One of my favorite subjects she has spoken on is how society shapes our communication and how communication shapes our relationships. Jesus was pretty specific, too, when it came to our speech. Our speech can impact how others see us. A seven-year study that Brown did revealed that most people avoid clarity because we tell ourselves we’re being kind when what we are actually doing is being unkind and unfair.

When we look around our world today, we see a lot of hate, fear, and intimidation. We also see a lot of love, peace and an effort to unite. No matter which aisle you are on – if you are slurring hate or proclaiming peace – your words have an effect. Clarity can only be achieved with the appropriate actions that follow.

The principle that Matthew and James both list is that we must follow with action the words that we speak. We must choose not to sway back and forth between perspectives but stand firm in the truths that we know. Jesus’ character was one of follow through. He was clear about who we were called to be. We must let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” and not allow the society to transform our speech to the point where it affects our relationships. Once it does, we lose.

Have you ever been in a relationship where clarity was lacking? I am a high communicator and, if I don’t receive specific expectations, then I feel lost. I remember once, when managing an office, my employer asked something of me. Instead of clearly stating his expectations, I assumed what he meant and ended up failing a project but also feeling frustrated in that relationship. He and I both used that as a breakthrough moment and learned how to communicate better.

Whether it is managing someone or being in a relationship, clarity brings unity. Clarity diffuses confusion and sometimes frustration. There, however, are consequences in being too clear and this is something we are seeing on a daily basis in the news. People are spatting off what they think or believe without understanding that the follow through which comes from it is detrimental and not what the Lord has called of us to be. We shouldn’t hold those who are not believers to the standards of Jesus, but let’s look at how intentional we can be with our “yes” and our “no”. How can you be more clear with the words that you use?

Every word, verse, parable, song and prophecy in the Word is intentional and clear. This is our example. If Jesus is our example and He was a man of clarity, kindness and follow through, how much more would we win for the kingdom by allowing that example to bleed through our speech?

Kelly Lawson

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July 3 – United – James 1

Read James 1:19-22

It is as if James were right here on Social Media and in our homes talking with us RIGHT NOW!  He wrote this almost 2,000 years ago, but it sure is true today. And what a great way to start his post: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:” (v.19a) Ok, maybe we wouldn’t post those words exactly, but I could see a Facebook post from James saying “Hey, fellow Jesus followers… I need you to read this…” And then he posts it… it’s simple. It’s clear.

“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.” (V19b-20)

That is convicting. In a time in our culture where everyone seems to be talking… will we, as followers of Jesus, be willing to put these verses into practice? Will we be willing to listen… really, truly listen? To ask questions, to clarify and to listen some more. Will we continue to get so angry with people with opposing views that we do not actually hear what they are saying? Or will we stop, take a breath and listen well? This is not easy!!  I love to be right and I love to win, but when winning and being right means that I show my anger and disrespect to someone else, I become the problem.

So I ask all of us to hear God’s Word and put it into practice. (Oh believe me, I’m talking to myself here too!!) That is what verse 22 means: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” And let’s stop and listen to each other. Let’s not get angry so quickly. Let’s take time to hear and understand someone who disagrees with us. Let’s pray for the peace of Jesus to be in our own hearts, in our family, in our neighborhood, our county and in our country. And that the peace of Jesus would be seen as we listen and seek to understand others.

Tim Boucher

 

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July 2 – United – Colossians 4

Read Colossians 4:2-6

It happened more than I would have liked playing high school basketball. I’m playing defense and a guy comes across the lane. I have a hand on him so I can get decent positioning. However, the impact he makes with me backs me on my heels. Suddenly he has positioning on me. Before I know it, the ball is passed into him and, with a swift pivot and sky hook, he scores.

The next dead ball, a sub comes in and points at me. With a hop in my step, I jog to the bench only to see the glare from the head coach. I’ve seen that look many times before and it never seems to end well for me.

“Oh, boy. Buckle up, Jake.”

I take a deep breath.

“Ready? Okay, here goes nothing.”

I am met with the usual in-your-face screaming that you would expect from a marine drill sergeant. The words that I hear are ones I will never forget and ones that are beyond inappropriate for this devo. I knew what he was yelling about but didn’t pay attention to what he was saying. I guess it was a defense mechanism that I had developed over the years.

As the fury subsides, the assistant coach waves me over to the seat next to him and forces the rest of the bench to slide down one. As I sit, he puts his arm around me and asks, “Do you know what Coach was talking about?” He then walks me through what I need to do and how I need to initiate the contact with the player as he’s coming across the lane so he doesn’t catch me off balance.

When I consider the words of Colossians 4, I wonder how often my words are filled with grace and seasoned with salt. When I’m talking with both believers and unbelievers, are my words full of grace? Do I approach my conversations with love rather than bitterness? When I speak, are people turned off because of my history or do they lean in because we have built a relationship on trust and love?

In the same way, Paul tells us to have our words be “seasoned with salt”. This means that we need to sprinkle in some cold hard truth to our words. We cannot be all fluff and no meat. There comes a time when you need to tell people what they need to hear rather than what will just make them all warm and fuzzy.

Take an inventory of your relationships and the words that you use. Do people lean in when you talk or do they sit back? Are you communicating love and respect or is it bitterness and hate? Do you shy away from the truth or do you communicate it openly?

Are you seeking unity or division?

As followers of Christ, the words are crystal clear.

Never shy away from the truth. However, we are called to communicate that truth in love and grace.

Jake Lawson

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July 1 – United – James 3

Read James 3:1-12

What factors contribute to experiencing unity in conversation? Good word choices are key! Sensitive intonation is essential! Engaging non-verbals are a must! A compassionate heart attitude is required! A learning disposition is crucial!

James 3 focuses especially on the first of those factors. While each of us may have areas with which he/she struggles, there is one challenge that all of us share. Every one of us has a problem with the tongue. And even though our tongues are relatively small, the problems they create can be huge! The tongue’s power is compared here to a small bit that controls a horse. It is like a small rudder that steers a ship. It is similar to a small flame that can set an entire forest ablaze.

Words are powerful with great potential to heal and bless. But that old adage many of us learned as kids is just not true: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The reality is that the words we share and the way we share them can inflict injury and devastation.

The problem is not completely eliminated through a relationship with Jesus. In fact, it is we as believers that may be most aware of the problem. Although it seems inconsistent, we bless God with our words and intonation. Meanwhile, we respond to those made in His image with words and intonation that reflect impatience, insensitivity, and perhaps even profanity.

So, what is the answer to our contribution to this kind of communication problem? It isn’t as simple as just trying harder. Even though we discipline our pets to obey us, we cannot just exercise greater personal discipline and expect perfection in our communication. Instead, we must recognize that this is more of a heart problem than a tongue problem. It is out of the overflow of the heart that we speak. If we, then, are to experience united conversation, we must first of all address the things that we allow into our hearts (Phil. 4:8).

Secondly, we must recognize that this heart problem has a spiritual solution. When we read of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, we see characteristics that all of us yearn to reflect in our communication. Each of us want our side of any conversation to be more and more influenced by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For Christ-followers, the indwelling Spirit of God makes those communication markers possible. Lean more into Him.

Steve Kern

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June 30 – United – John 4

Read John 4:1-26

Jesus spent His life as a bridge builder – not a wall builder. He came to earth to span the gulf between sinful man and a perfect God through His work on the cross (Romans 5:8).

When Jesus walked this earth, it was dominated by prejudice and hatred. Yet He welcomed outcasts of society and showed them the love of the Father, regardless of race, morality, or economic status.

In John 4, Jesus built a spiritual bridge to a Samaritan woman and offered her “living water.” He violated three cultural barriers when He spoke to her.

  1. She was a woman. Self-righteous Jews would never even speak to a woman in public because they could be accused of immorality.
  2. She was a Samaritan. The most direct route from Jerusalem to Galilee was through Samaria, the land inhabited by the offspring of Assyrian invaders and Jews from the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom. Pious Jews would go around Samaria (even though it was much longer) because they did not want to have any contact with Samaritans, who were considered “half – breeds.” But Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4) because He was on a bridge-building mission.
  1. The woman in this passage was indeed an immoral woman. She had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband.

Despite these cultural prohibitions, Jesus, “the Master Bridge Builder,” met this woman where she was and pointed her to an eternal relationship with God that only He could offer. Jesus refused to allow racial, cultural, or even moral barriers to keep Him from demonstrating the love of God to a woman who had never experienced real love.

One well-traveled pastor, who’s seen racism in all segments of society, calls prejudice the most pervasive sin of the entire world. George Barna wrote, “We cannot expect to influence our community for good until we repent of racist attitudes, inaccurate assumptions, and unrealistic expectations related to racial diversity” (The Second Coming of the Church).

Imagine what would happen if you and I followed the example of Jesus? Author Ron Sider writes, “Ultimately, racism in the church is a denial of the Gospel. Racial reconciliation in the church is a visible demonstration of the Gospel.“

May that kind of Gospel-empowered reconciliation be true in our lives, our home and our church!

Bob Fetterhoff

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June 29 – United – Psalm 139

Read Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 139:13-16

We’ve all sung the song.  And if you’re a parent or a kids ministry worker, you may have even taught it.

“Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow

Black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children

Of the world”

It’s simple, but true. God loves the world. The human race is the pinnacle of His creation. Mankind is unique from all other of God’s creation, because mankind was created in the image of God.  That means each of us bears that image, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, color, or culture.  Each person, every human being, bears the image of God and is inherently worthy of respect and honor.

What’s more, all of us are descendants of the first man and first woman, Adam and Eve. If the Genesis account doesn’t make that clear enough, then maybe Paul’s words will, which he preached to an academic, cultured, but spiritually bankrupt crowd:

“From one man [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth…”

Acts 17:26

Think about that statement for a minute. Think about what it’s saying. The full capacity for the racial diversity we see in the world was resident in the genetics of Adam and Eve, because from one man God made all the nations.

King David reflected on that spectacular, creative genius in Psalm 139. There, he describes us as God’s handiwork. In fact, the word translated “knit” (v.13) speaks to the care and attention God took in the development of every one of us.

In a world rampant with fear, hate, prejudice, bigotry, racism, and discrimination, the follower of Jesus sees the diversity in our human race as God’s design and celebrates His handiwork.

But there is another truth associated with our descent from Adam, and it’s this: Adam sinned, and so we also have inherited his sin nature. The Apostle Paul wrote,

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”

Romans 5:12

All of us, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, color, or culture need a Savior. We all have sinned against God, and we all need to be forgiven by God. Every person, created in the image of God and knit together by God, needs to repent of their sins and receive the forgiveness God graciously offers us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Embrace the beauty and dignity of every person in the human race and care enough to proclaim the message that will redeem it.

David Lawson

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