October 26 – The 2020 Election – Kindness

Day 2:  Kindness

“Don’t let being ‘right’ talk you out of being ‘kind.’” – Bob Goff

Kindness is defined as considerate, helpful, and having a benevolent disposition.  God is kind.  Paul told the Romans that kindness is what leads us to repentance.  Think about how a perfect, holy, loving God responded to a messed up, sinful, depraved humanity.  In kindness and love by giving His best for us at our worst.  Before you chose to engage and respond in the world, remember to speak the truth in love and to do so in kindness.  There’s never an excuse to not be kind to others.  As Bob said, don’t let being right talk you out of being kind.

Scripture: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” – Colossians 3:12

Is there someone that I struggle to be kind to or to speak kindly about?

Prayer:  God, help me put on kindness today.  When I encounter someone who I believe or know holds an opposing view to mine, let me be kind.  May they see your kindness shining through me in what I say, how I say it, when I say it, or maybe even if I chose not to say it.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Nick Cleveland

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October 25 – The 2020 Election – Intro & A Strategy to Respond Well

The year of 2020 has been exhausting for everyone.  And to top it off, we have another polarizing election process to endure.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently said to yourself, “I can’t wait until this is over!”  The constant stream of cable news activism, Twitter’s cesspool of constant debate, and the mud-slinging commercials are all overwhelming and somehow seem to bring out the worst in us as a nation and people.  And now we toss in a pandemic, one’s perspective on data and science, and the use of masks and you’ve got yourself a full-blown cultural war.

Red state?  Blue State?  Democrat?  Republican?  Libertarian?  Soft Republican?  Switch over Democrat?  We’ve been divided and subdivided just about as many ways as possible.  The labels are many, the tribes are entrenched, and tolerance is now defined as ‘I’m ok with you if you agree 100% with me’.  With all of these distinctions, is it any surprise that we function like anything but the UNITED States of America?

So how then do we, who follow Jesus, respond during this election season?

An important distinction in that question is what it says compared to what it doesn’t say.  It doesn’t say react.  Oh, how many are reacting.  Jesus doesn’t want us to react out of emotion, fear, and anxiety.  He wants us to respond out of love, confidence, and trust in who we are inside of His love for us.

It is so easy to become cynical and sarcastic when watching this primetime drama unfold.  And in doing so, we miss a great opportunity to love with compassion and lead with civility.  Deep down, I believe our nation is craving this kind of leadership.  If we did, I believe we would seize an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love to others and discover a currently hidden gem in our democratic republic – the free exchange of ideas and worldviews.

Over the next few days I want to share a few brief thoughts, a quote to get us thinking, a Bible text to meditate on, and a prayer to pray.  I believe these will help us navigate the choppy waters of the week of a presidential election in our country.  There’s only 1 rule I’d ask you to adhere to: Don’t apply these to your candidate, the opposite candidate, your party, the opposite party, your tribe, or the opposite tribe.  Go introspective and apply them to yourself.  Ready to dive in?  Let’s begin with Day 1:

Day 1: A Strategy to Respond Well

“Strategy for surviving the election season:  Be 1,000x more tuned into what you read in the Bible and hear in your church than what you read on social media and hear on Fox or CNN.” – Howerton

Information overload, censorship, conspiracies, etc.  It can be easy to jump on social media and be led down a dark trail for any perspective you want to affirm what you already think.  Jesus told us that our mission on this planet is to make disciples. A disciple is someone who shapes, teaches, and forms us.  As followers of Jesus, it is Jesus who does that.  So, here’s a strategy for surviving the election:  Don’t let the world disciple you, CNN disciple you, FOX News disciple you, a political party disciple you, Facebook disciple you, twitter disciple you.  Let the Spirit of God use the Word of God to disciple you and make you look more like the Son of God.  To respond well, you must discern well.  Be selective what you allow to shape you.

Scripture: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Mt. 28:19-20

Based on the time I give to it, who is currently discipling me most?

Prayer:  God, let me focus on your Word and truth.  May I spend more time today in your Word than I do being discipled in the election.  Holy Spirit, guide me, teach me, comfort me, and convict me.  Lead me to look more like Jesus.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Nick Cleveland

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October 24 – I AM – The True Vine

Read John 15:1, 5

Can you tell where your story ends and His begins? Is there a defining feature of your life where you can see the fruit of abiding in Jesus?

The eastern world thinks of things a lot differently than we do. They see things based on their function, not their form. Therefore, when looking at a tree that bears fruit, what they see is livelihood, prosperity, a future. When speaking of Jesus being the Vine and us the branches; He is who brings us life. Without Him we have no hope in our life, no honoring prosperity, and no future that does not bear anything worthy.

Think of the branch, it is an extension of the vine but it is not the vine. It cannot exist without the vine, and it does not bear fruit without a source, which again, would be the vine. Then there is God, the Vine Dresser. The one who sheds that which is unholy so that holiness can grow.

I often tell people that, when you abide with Jesus, you can no longer see yourself, but see Him. The choices you make come from the source of truth, that is Christ. The path you walk on, the example you leave, it all comes back to Jesus…not you. That is abiding. Being so much like Christ that you cannot tell where your story ends and His begins, because it is bleeding and weaving together.

Jesus speaks of when we are in Him, we will bear much fruit. What does this look like in your life? Can you see the fruit sprouting from your decisions and your walk because you are allowing the Lord to shed that which does not please Him?

Living a life of abiding in Christ may seem like either a daunting or maybe even an easy thing to do. However, no matter where you are in your walk, we all have surrendering to do. We all have growth to walk in and we are all still human.

Can you see it? Can you see the fruit that comes in and through your life because of what Jesus is teaching you, showing you, feeding you?

The pruning process is one that is quite interesting to learn about. The purposes for pruning vary. One pruning purpose being to change or train a plant’s growing pattern or to restrict growth of the unhealthy parts. Another purpose for pruning is to maintain or improve plant health or the quality of flowers, fruit, foliage.

You see, if we allow the Lord to cut off that which is unhealthy in our life, it brings more space for Him to grow us in areas we may not have known before. It allows Him to cut off that which does not help us grow into the man or woman we were created to be.

If you don’t see more of Jesus within your life, I challenge you to go before Him. Surrender and allow Him to prune that which does not bear fruit in your life so that He can fill you with more of Him.

Allow your lives to weave in His and His in you.

Kelly Lawson

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October 23 – I AM – The Way, the Truth and the Life

Read John 14:1-6

“Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”. John 14:6 NIV

I am the way.

The paths at Camp Otyokwah, a 300-acre wooded Christian camp in Richland County, are usually marked with signs. You can hike the paths and still find your way back to the main camping area, including the sleeping cabins, the mess hall and the quiet hour worship ledge. The signs show us the way – the way back to the camp.

I learned at that camp that Jesus Christ is the Way to eternal life. My children were baptized there. God’s plan of salvation is called “the way of the Lord.” (Matt 3:3). Thomas, one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 12:3), shortly before the Passion asked, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NIV.

That statement by Jesus is extremely relevant!

I am the truth.

A memorable sporting event lodges in my mind, I was watching the 1988 World Series, which featured a Game 1 unforgettable two-run, walk-off home run with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth inning for The Los Angeles Dodgers. The announcer, Jack Buck, spontaneously said, “I don’t believe what I just saw.” And I also couldn’t believe what I just saw on TV.

I wonder if people said the same thing when they witnessed the greatest event in human history – when Jesus rose from the dead. Over 500 people saw Him. Certainly, some of the people must have thought, “Wow, I can’t believe what I’m seeing.” Or, “I can’t believe what I just saw.” But many people did believe it. And Jesus backed up what He said He was going to do. Because He is the truth  – “the body of real things, facts and events: ACTUALITY.”  (Webster).

I am the life.

God gave the breath of life to man, making him a living soul (Gen 2:7). This life is a precious gift and the taking of life is prohibited (Gen 9:5). It is the gift of God through Jesus Christ (John 3:36). It is not interrupted by physical death (1 Thess. 5:10).

Housefires is an American worship band from Atlanta, Georgia. They sing a song with uplifting lyrics titled “The Way”.

“I believe through every battle

Through every heartbreak

Through every circumstance

 I believe You are my fortress

You are my portion

You are my hiding place.

I believe You are the way, the truth, the life

I believe You are.

It’s a new horizon and I’m set on You.”

Are you finding direction, truth and fulfillment through Jesus?

Tom Weckesser

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October 22 – I AM – The Good Shepherd

Read John 10:11, 14

Living around Wayne County for almost your entire life would lead many to believe that, by default, you are knowledgeable about farming, crops and the Amish.  To take it a step further, growing up in Smithville would lead people to assume those things about me as well.  However, I know very little about any of them.  But one thing I have often found fascinating as a Christian is how frequently the Lord describes His followers as His flock or His sheep.

Years ago, I remember hearing a few friends who are farmers talk about sheep.  Sheep are meek animals, gentle and quiet.  They can be very smart creatures and have the cognitive ability like humans to form long lasting bonds with each other.  They have similar emotions to us in regards to fear, joy, boredom and anger.  They recognize their shepherd and know the voice of those who care for them.

In Israel, in the time of Jesus and in modern times, the shepherd would lead the sheep.  They would go in front of the sheep who would, in turn, follow the shepherd.  If one sheep would go astray, then a shepherd would call the lost sheep by name. When the lost sheep hears its name being called by the shepherd, it will come to the shepherd and follow.

A good shepherd knows their sheep so well that they have names for each sheep. The shepherd knows their sheep and cares for their sheep in a way that we would find crazy. When the shepherd and the flock come to a river or creek, the shepherd will carry each of the sheep to safety.  Or when a sheep is attacked by a vicious animal, the shepherd will fight off the predator to save and rescue the sheep. They will not even risk losing the life of one of the sheep from the flock because that one sheep’s life is too valuable to them.

In verse 11, Jesus says that HE is the shepherd and that He lays down His life for the sheep.  Not like the hired hand, the worker who is in it for the money, who doesn’t own the sheep and will not fight to save the life of the sheep.  Jesus is quite the opposite.  He is the good shepherd who fights and defends His sheep.  He knows each of His sheep and His sheep know Him and follow Him.

And if just one sheep from the flock comes up missing, the shepherd will leave the flock together and go and call out the name of the lost sheep and search for the one that is missing. They realize that there is a risk involved in finding the one that is lost but they will not stop or rest until they find it.  Sheep like to stay together. So, if one is missing, the shepherd knows something is wrong. The herd, as a whole, is strong but one lost sheep is able to be attacked. The lost sheep could be trapped, sick or wounded. A good shepherd knows that, in the open country away from the flock, the lost sheep is in danger. And they will not rest until it is found.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd.  I know this because, when I was lost from the flock, He came and found me and He carried me back to safety when I could not walk on my own.  Do you know the Good Shepherd?  Do you recognize His voice?  And are you following the Shepherd?

Nate Mills

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October 21 – I AM – The Resurrection and the Life

Read John 11:1-25

Disappointment with God. I’ve been there. I’m guessing you have too. Maybe it wasn’t the death of someone so dear to you as Mary’s or Martha’s brother. Or maybe it was. If you’ve been around for any length of time, the chances are good that you’ve experienced some sort of disappointment in God’s choices.

Mary and Martha were sure Jesus would come and save Lazarus from the sickness he suffered. So, they sent word that “the one (He) love(d)” was sick. But Jesus was not interested in making their brother better.

He intended to make him altogether new.

So, He waited two more days. And when He arrived, Lazarus was gone. He’d spent four whole days in a tomb, the Bible says. Long enough to emit the stench of death. Long enough to cancel any doubt that he was, in fact, deceased.

When Martha caught up with Jesus, the disappointment oozed out. “Lord, if you had been here…”

That’s when Jesus walked her into the truth that He alone IS life. His very essence is the resurrection she hoped for, even after her brother had died. Even when Jesus disappointingly stayed away. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day,” she said. And it was true. But Jesus showed up in that town in Judea because He Himself was — is — life itself.

Jesus came for real life in the forever and He came to give new and true life in the now.

”I am the resurrection and the life.” I imagine He looked straight into Martha’s eyes when He said it. As if to say, Martha, your brother will rise again in the resurrection. And the resurrection is here. For, I AM the resurrection! Your brother will rise again in me.

“The one who believes in me will live,” Jesus said. Believing is living. Both now and forever. Are you living, believing, following Jesus? He didn’t come to make you better. He came to make you new. He is the resurrection. He is the life.

Bria Wasson

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October 20 – I AM – The Door

Read John 10:7-9, 27-30

Walking dusty paths in Haiti, I was humbled by the dwellings of my new friends. Thorny, desert plants formed make-shift boundaries around what they called ‘home.’ If they were lucky, they had a tarp for a door. Some had a half-starved dog to sound the alarm when strangers landed on their claim.

We are surrounded by sturdy doors. We lock them and set alarms to detect the slightest movement. We feel safe when they’re shut. We have the power to open and close them at will.

We like doors.

Except when we’re locked out. We can think of nothing else when we’ve lost a key or a code. It’s torture to lose access to what we believe to be ours.

Jesus is the door.

He is the access to all we’re looking for. He holds the power to keep us safe. All evil is confronted by His authority when it tries to get near us. All suspicions are dropped when He says, “Hey, she’s with me.”

He is our home. He is our freedom.

He’s the cure for our sick hearts that do what they shouldn’t and don’t do what they should. He carried all of our wrongdoing on His shoulders when He was nailed to a cross. He died and was buried. Three days later, breath filled His lungs and He again walked this earth. He wanted us to know that He holds the power over death. He wanted us to know that we are seen and loved by the one true God. He wanted us to know we could trust Him with our failures and dreams, now and forever.

Jesus is a gate that swings with life and purpose. He doesn’t fence us in with legalism and duty. He fills us with His spirit to lead us into a life of love, service, and purpose for His glory. He is a generous shepherd providing the needs of His sheep, no matter how needy they might be.

Have you found life through ‘the door?’

The crazy thing is, He’s knocking on yours.

 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

(Revelation 3:20)

Jesus is the door.

To intimacy. To companionship.

He is a gentle shepherd who wants to guide you with His voice. He will never leave you. He is near. No one has to live locked out. No one has to live unforgiven and alone. Will you believe and step through ‘the door?”

“By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us-set us right with him, make us fit for him-we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand-out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

(Romans 5:1-2 MSG)

Welcome home!

Shelly Eberly

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October 19 – I AM – Light of the World

Read John 8:12

Have you ever been on a tour of a cave? On the way in, it is OK, in fact kind of pretty with the water dripping down the walls.  If you go into an older cave, you might actually see stalagmites or stalactites of various colors. However, the deeper you go into the cave, the darker it gets. Without fail, every cave tour includes a time when all of the electric lights are turned off and you are standing in dead silence and complete darkness! You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face! The longer you stand there in the darkness, the more nervous you become. Anxiety just keeps building and building. You can finally breathe again, once the guide switches on his flashlight and leads the group back to the light at the entrance.

In Jesus’ time, people were living in darkness. They were surrounded by people who believed in false gods, and they were considered the lowest class of people living under the rule of the cruel Roman government. They didn’t know what to do or who to follow.

Even the religious leaders were corrupt making hundreds of rules so that no one, including themselves, could possibly follow them all. Right before today’s verse, Jesus had pointed out the leaders’ own hypocrisies by writing something in the sand that made them drop their accusations against the woman condemned to be stoned for adultery. These “leaders” were living in sin themselves but were blinded by their piety and quest for power. They, too, were living in darkness.

Jesus, in his statement, offered them the light to guide them out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God’s love.

But that is not all. Today’s verse also states that “Whoever follows Jesus will never walk in darkness, but WILL HAVE the light of life!” That light that Jesus talked about did not go away when He ascended into heaven. The light of Jesus lives on in the hearts of believers.

I love history and am especially fascinated with the stories of Holocaust survivors of WWII. Time and time again, ordinary people like you and me defied the powerful German army and put their own lives on the line to hide and protect their Jewish neighbors and complete strangers. The same is true of the people involved in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Elaborate plans and networks were set up to lead people, who were living in fear and darkness of slavery, into the light of freedom. There are countless other times that believers have jumped in to rescue others in their darkest hours.

Why?

Because it is really hard, in fact, next to impossible, to hide light in darkness. One lit match can light up the darkest room. One act of kindness in Jesus’ name can change and save lives. The light of Jesus living in you needs to SHINE!

Where will you spread His light today?

Pat Arnold

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October 18 – I AM – Bread of Life

Read John 6:35, 41, 48, 51

The other day I was basking in the joy of reading to my grandson. The battered, well-read book, The Little Red Hen, had been given to me by my grandmother and now I was passing on the story to a new generation. The repetition of this tale, which must be read voicing all the animal sounds, brings smiles as we watch the little red hen complete the task of baking bread while the other farm animals lazily watch. The fable dates back to 1874 and has been written in many languages as it is told to children all over the world. The lesson of hard work and the importance of bread is understood by all ages universally.

Bread contains everything necessary to sustain life. The children of Israel understood this as they cried out to Moses for food in the wilderness. Exodus tells us that God rained bread from heaven in the form of manna. As one of my favorite Bible teachers says, “The New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament”. We see this clearly in our passage in John. Jesus references the Exodus account and connects the dots to his Jewish audience. The true bread that came from heaven is Him!

Just the day before, Jesus had miraculously fed five thousand with just five barley loaves and two fish with twelve baskets of leftovers. This miracle, fresh in their minds and hearts, helped drive the truth home that He is the revelation of I AM from the time of Moses. But, as the children of Israel ate manna and eventually died, Jesus goes a step beyond and says that He is the Bread of Life and that anyone who comes to Him will never hunger. Jesus often used earthly illustrations to teach a heavenly meaning. The hunger that He satisfies is a spiritual hunger. The life is an eternal life.

Just as bread sustains life, so Jesus is all that we need. Enough manna was given for each day, no more, no less. So, we, too, have all that we need for each new day in Jesus. Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven. When we eat of this bread, we have life eternally with Him. Later, he refers to His body as the bread, which He gave for the life of the world. (John 6:51) When believers share in communion, the bread and the cup, this is a symbol again that He is the Bread of Life. It’s a beautiful picture of sustenance, provision and fulfillment. I’ve heard it said that I AM means He is all that I need Him to be, when I need Him to be all that I need.

So, just as the little red hen asks at the end of the tale, “Who will eat this bread?” Are you crying out with a hungry heart, “I will!”? Does your sustenance depend on the Bread of Life? He is all that you need.

Charline Engle

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October 17 – BLESS – What does this mean to you?

Read Acts 8:26-40

Imagine the scene.

You’re called to the gates of Heaven. You’re at a loss for words because of the spectacular beauty that surrounds you. All of the stories and speculation that you heard during your earthly life come nowhere close to what you see. At that point in time, nothing else matters. You see the streets of gold and can feel the very presence of the Lord. At this point, you look off to the side to see a friend overcome with emotion. This is a friend that you had invited to church many times but were never really sure anything stuck with them. You tried to have spiritual conversations with them but, according to you, you didn’t get anywhere. They ended up accepting Christ! Through the tears, this friend says, “Thank you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.”

You never really know the impact of investing in someone can have. You never know if you are the only Jesus they will ever experience. You don’t know that the time you passed up to talk to them was the last time you were ever going to talk to them. Your voice, your invitation, your care could be just what they need to turn the page in their life…turning the page to eternity with Christ.

What amazes me about this BLESS series that we have gone through is the deliberate layout of the letters. First, we learned that we need to begin with prayer. Next, we need to listen to others. We then find out ways that we can intentionally invest in others followed by identifying ways that we can serve them. All of these steps describe the framework that goes into softening their heart to the gospel. What amazes me is that there are 4 steps which take place before the gospel ever comes into the picture.

What does this show you?

To me, it shows that there is so much more to evangelism than the presentation. How are you going to present the gospel to someone that has no interest in hearing it? How are you going to present the gospel when the person isn’t really convinced you care about them and truly want what’s best for them?

In our reading today, Phillip exemplifies the BLESS acrostic well. It’s much more than a presentation. It’s about caring for, investing and guiding them towards Jesus.

It is our prayer that, through this BLESS series, you have been equipped and encouraged to invest in the lives of those around you like never before. We pray that you leave this series with a game plan of how you are going to reach those close to you with the hope of the gospel and live out each of the letters of BLESS.

You never know, your invitation may be what convinces them to cross from death to life.

Jake Lawson

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