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.

October 17 – I Will Remember – Here I Raise My Ebenezer: A Stone of Remembrance

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I Will Remember – YouVersion Plan

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Read 1 Samuel 7:3-17, 1 Samuel 3:20

The hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” begins the second stanza with the following lyrics:

“Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” 

For those unfamiliar with the storyline behind the usage of Ebenezer, one could think that someone is raising their child named Ebenezer in Lion-King fashion. However, Ebenezer is a reference to a stone that the prophet Samuel had established between two cities as a memorial to the Lord, representing how the Lord was a “stone of help,” helping Israel win the victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:3-17). Thus, the reference to raising one’s Ebenezer is raising a memorial—a remembrance—of how the Lord has been and is a stone of help.

Within the context of the raising of “the stone of help,” or the raising of Ebenezer, there are two particular points of interest.

First, the “stone of help” was raised after a much-needed return to the Lord. 

If you read back a couple of chapters, you will see that Israel had experienced a period of turbulent times. They had seen the corruption and evil of the sons of Eli—the priest of Israel. They had experienced multiple poundings by the Philistines. After their last beating, the Philistines captured their national sacred mascot, the ark of the covenant. In addition, they witnessed the death of the priestly family. Furthermore, they were a nation chasing after other gods. After these events, Samuel, the established prophet of the Lord (1 Sam. 3:20), called Israel to return to the Lord with all their hearts.

Second, the stone of help was raised after Israel cried out to the Lord in great desperation. 

As Israel gathered as a nation to repent and return to the Lord, the Philistines heard about the gathering and planned to crash the repentance party with an attack. When Israel heard about the attack, “they were afraid of the Philistines.” 

However, they asked Samuel to constantly “cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” The difference between their actions now, verses their previous actions, was the central power and focus behind the fighting. Previously, Israel was fighting in their own power and for themselves—even though they used God as a lucky rabbit’s foot. 

Don’t miss this. Prior to the Ebenezer being raised, Israel approached God in desperation, knowing that they could not win unless he fought for them. In other words, they were completely dependent on God for help—for victory. This is where God wants us all to be—regardless of the kind of crises we may face. 

In closing, whatever we face today, tomorrow, or down the road is something that God does not just want to face with us, but for us. Jesus did not come to be “part” of our life as if to become a spiritual tack-on, but rather has come to bring us life and to be our life! Thus, we should live lives completely dependent on him. When we live this way, we will find ourselves raising more “Ebenezers” (memorial stones signifying how God has been our stone of help). 

Questions for Reflection

What Ebenezer should you raise today in remembrance of how God was your stone of help? 

How can you come alongside others to help them see their Ebenezers? 

September 25 – Living Courageously

Read 1 Samuel 17:1-58 and John 16:33 and Philippians 4:13

The movie, Hoosiers, is a story about overcoming adversity and a leader who battles through criticism. It is based on a true story of a high school basketball team playing in the Indiana state tournament. At Butler Fieldhouse, and before the largest crowd they have ever seen, the Hickory Huskers were big underdogs against the favored South Bend Central Bears in the state championship game. The Hickory team gathered in the locker room for a prayer before the game. The team chaplain read to the team from 1 Samuel 17: “And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on the head, and he fell to the ground. Amen.”

Then the team went out and played the game. The movie is about a coach and his team and living courageously through many obstacles, curve balls and uncertainties.

Just like our lives.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33

To live courageously involves effort. It is not easy. Take heart! Be prepared. God has a plan for you.

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

Let’s strive to face challenging situations with confidence and bravery. I have officiated over 1400 high school football games and have experienced fear and lack of confidence at times while officiating. What helped me is I would simply repeat Philippians 4:13 over and over in my mind. Sometimes I would say it out loud to myself before a play. It helped to give me confidence and to stay focused. We all face fear and lack of confidence at times. Reciting a scripture verse in difficult situations can help us live courageously.

Have you tried it?

While everyone stood around, too afraid to confront Goliath, David wasn’t scared. David had faith in God and believed He would deliver Goliath into his hands. David was correct and Israel enjoyed a period of peace.

Just as David wasn’t afraid to confront the giant, we shouldn’t be afraid to confront our giants either. Regardless of what giants face us – illness, job loss, relationship issues, financial problems, the challenge of being a Christian spouse and parent or other giants – we can step out in faith and know God can work everything together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Prepare your heart for this devotional series about living courageously. Consider how you can get closer to God every day and be a godly influence on others. Consider being prepared, bold, and confident while embracing change.

Live with courage for Jesus Christ in a world that is challenging.

Tom Weckesser

December 6 – The Beatitudes – “Blessed are those who mourn…”

Read 1 Samuel 21:1-15 and Psalm 34:1-22

Every parent longs for a perfectly healthy child. But we are brokenhearted when we’re born.

We’re driven to be independent, desire control, and exhibit ownership from the first time we’re encouraged to share. It’s evident that we are spiritually broken.

Add to that, the loss that comes with living. Blow after blow of disappointments. Failures. Abuse. Death. It’s a big pile of brokenness, isn’t it?

It’s my story. It’s anyone that is human’s story.

We’re needy.

I don’t like being needy.

I’ve also found that when I admit my need, when I agree with God that He’s my only source of sanity, that He’s my only hope of forgiveness and salvation, that He’s worthy of my dependence…

I find a healed heart. I find intimacy with a God that is close.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt. 5:4)

If I would have started there, I wonder if you would have skipped this devotional, thinking, ‘I’m not mourning so this one isn’t for me.’

But aren’t we all mourning something? Aren’t we all suffering from some kind of loss? An inward and outer brokenness?

David wrote Psalm 34 from a place of brokenness. He was crushed. When he learned that Saul was planning to kill him, he fled. He was alone and had nothing. This young warrior, who was told he would become king, was running for his life. As he ran, God orchestrated a beautiful reminder of His presence. It was Goliath’s sword. Isn’t it just like God to remind us when we’re crushed that there have been victories in the past? That He is the same, faithful God today that He was yesterday, when we were facing other giants.

David still went on to lie and act like a fool. His faith was weak. He was crushed, remember? But He found His God to be faithful and forgiving.

He was near. Close.

And He’s offering that to you.

He’s offered that to me.

If…

I will call on Him in truth. If I will admit that I need Him. If I will lay down my independence, my need for control, my pain and disappointment, and call on Him. Put my trust in Him. He will draw me close. He will comfort me. He will be the source of everything I need. It’s not that He ever isn’t. It’s just agreeing with Him that He is.

It’s in agreement that He draws near. Or rather, we draw near to God who is already there.

He’s close to the brokenhearted.

Near to the humble.

He saves those who are crushed in spirit.

And for that reason, we are blessed.

Shelly Eberly

April 9 – Jesse Tree – A Shepherd King?

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-1317:1-512 Samuel 5:1-57:8-11

“For the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

David was a small shepherd boy who played a harp and composed music. He was the youngest and smallest in his family. By all appearances he would be the least likely to lead his people into battle and to defeat the enemies of Israel. But he had one thing that most people of his day didn’t have… God’s own heart.

He might have been a little shepherd boy, but while he was watching his flock, he spent many hours getting to know God, marveling at His handiwork he saw all around him, talking to God, and singing his praises. He was quick to recognize God’s hand on his life. Scripture tells us that when he was anointed by Samuel, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.”

All these gave him the courage to volunteer against all odds to face Goliath alone and to lead his nation at a relatively young age.

It wasn’t how old or how strong or good-looking he was. It wasn’t even how smart he was that made David a great leader. No, it was how close he was to God. How dependent he was on His leading him down the right paths of life that made the difference.

Do you take time each day to get to know God? Do you wait on His guidance in your life? Are you willing to face the “giants” in your life knowing God is there beside you?

April 8 – Jesse Tree – A King

Read 1 Samuel 7:15-8:22

“So all the elders of Israel…said to [Samuel], ‘You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’” 1 Samuel 8:6, 7

God had been leading the nation of Israel. He wasn’t using a complicated system of government with representatives, governors, and presidents or kings. Instead, He gave clear instruction using people like Moses and Joshua and then later the judges. But Israel didn’t always do what the judges said, and sometimes the judges weren’t always good. Ultimately, they didn’t always follow God.

Samuel’s sons weren’t doing a good job of leading. That’s when people from the nation came to Samuel with a request. They had seen all the other countries around them. Each of those countries had a king, while Israel didn’t. Wanting to be like the other countries, they asked Samuel to give them a king.

Is imitating others always a good thing? Samuel warned the people that they would have less money because the king would make them pay taxes. He would take some of the people and place them into the army. The king would take some of the freedom that they had. But, worst of all, in wanting a human king, they were rejecting God as their real King. They were showing that they didn’t really want to follow Him. That was not good.

Are there things that others around you have that you want? Are there ways that they act that you are tempted to imitate? Before you insist on having or doing whatever it is, check out what God wants for you. He wants to be your King! Listen to those in authority in your life…parents, teachers, boss, government officials. Just because you see it in others doesn’t mean you should have it or do it too.

Steve Kern

January 24 – God’s Will – God’s will and celebration

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11

Cynical creatures that we are, we can falsely conclude that the will of God is . . .

  • Something that God only reluctantly reveals.  We may wrongly feel that we will have to beg and bargain in order to discern His will.  We may feel that we will need hyper-sensitive hearing aids in order to hear His almost imperceptible voice.
  • Something that we will always hesitantly embrace.  We may mistakenly consider Him a cosmic killjoy.  He may seem to be One who wants to put the kibosh on our dreams, sending us down a painful path we will dread every step of the way.

Friends, let’s identify those thoughts for what they are . . . wrong!  They are just not true.  He directs the path of those who trust in Him (Prov. 3:5, 6).  He gives the desires of the heart to those who take delight in Him (Ps. 37:4).

I wonder if Hannah had drawn those wrong conclusions.  There was nothing she wanted more than a child of her own.  But her nemesis taunted her with painful reminders of her barrenness.  And her God?  He seemed to be deaf to her pleas for fruitfulness.  Until one day, she poured out her heart in a way that she had never before.  She entreated God for a son.  If God gave her a boy, she promised to surrender him to the Lord’s service.

And then came Samuel.

Do not forget that the Lord does give Samuels.  Do not forget that at times He does give us precisely what we have dreamed of and asked for.  Do not forget that, in some instances, He even goes above and beyond what we asked or imagined and blesses us with more than we ever could have hoped for (Eph. 3:20).  Don’t forget that the greatest and richest blessings are ones that we have yet to fully realize and unpack because these are spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:15-20).

And, as a result, don’t hesitate to pause now to express to Him your gratitude that He is a gracious Father who has a good plan for His kids.

Steve Kern

November 23 – A King is Coming – The Power of Jealousy

Read 1 Samuel 18:1-19:24

It seemed that everyone loved David . . . well, almost everyone.  King Saul certainly did not!  Jealousy and fear seemed to dominate his thoughts and fuel his actions.

But Saul seemed to be in the minority.  Jonathan, Saul’s son, considered David to be a best friend.  Michal, Saul’s daughter, fell in love with David and even married him.  As David experienced military success, the people of Israel seemed to give him the status of national hero.

When we allow the pendulum to swing back to Saul’s jealous fear, however, we discover a man looking for an opportunity to eliminate David.  Repeatedly, Saul tried to pin David to a wall with a spear.  Each time, David eludes the spear.  Perhaps the king could use his son or his daughter to deliver David into a trap.  No, they were too wise.  They saw right through his plans.  Perhaps Saul could place David in the danger of battle and the Philistines would put the upstart to death.  But, once again, even that did not work.

Jealousy certainly is a powerful force in life.  If we allow it to run rampant and unchecked in our lives, it will move us towards poisonous thoughts and actions.  It may be as invisible as a critical spirit that seeks to find fault in others without ever voicing it.  Or it may be as blatant as words or actions that attack the other person.

Rather than allowing jealousy to dominate our thoughts, words, and actions, we must learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15).  At any point in time, there will be those who enjoy greater success, receive more accolades, or have superior abilities.  Rather than allowing those realities to push us towards envy, we need to be able to thank God for the unique contribution that the person can make while also being grateful for the unique people we are.

Someone has wisely said that “the most difficult instrument to play is second fiddle.”  That’s true!  But even second fiddle is important!  Rosin up your bow and play it joyfully.

Steve Kern

November 22 – A King is Coming – Low Tolerance and High Confidence

Read 1 Samuel 17:1-58

It shouldn’t have been David.  That’s right.  Humanly speaking, David should not have been the one to conquer Goliath.  David didn’t even come close to Goliath in height.  With Goliath towering over 9 feet in the air, it probably should have been someone like Saul who, from the shoulders up, was taller than anyone else in the nation.  David certainly didn’t compare to Goliath when it came to military experience.  Perhaps it should have been one of David’s brothers or one of the others from the thousands gathered on the mountain where the Israelites stood.  David’s battle gear was laughable in contrast to Goliath’s.  Goliath probably wore armor or carried weapons with a total weight more than David himself.  Meanwhile, David toted a sling and five stones.  Should it have been someone who could actually fit in some armor?  Someone with experience with a spear or javelin?

But David had two things that the others standing on the Israelite side of the valley apparently lacked.

  1. He had a low tolerance for the disgrace Goliath brought upon God and His people.
  2. He had high confidence in the power God would unleash against Goliath.

As a result, that, which shouldn’t have happened, happened.  David not only marched into battle bravely, He also emerged from battle victorious.  Goliath had been conquered and the Philistine armies had fled.

I think it is safe to say that you will also face a Goliath in your life.  Not necessarily the nine foot variety with battle garb and weapons.  But the kind that will seek to disgrace God and His church.  These are the kind of people that revile what they don’t understand (Jude 1:10) including your good behavior in Christ (1 Pet. 3:16) and angelic majesties (2 Pet. 2:10, Jude 1:8).  You will experience that at some point.

When that kind of opposition comes, will you just powerlessly step aside and allow them to seem to be correct?  Or will you confidently stand knowing that the power of God will one day be unleashed against those who oppose the living God?

Steve Kern

November 21 – A King is Coming – Sovereign God and Eternal Plans

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-23

If you were to trace through one of the primary threads of the Bible, you would discover that it has been part of the eternal plan of God to reconcile all things to Himself in Jesus Christ.  Remember that both creation and humanity were impacted and impaired by the fall of man in Genesis 3.  God, however, had anticipated this even before the foundations of the world.  And at the time of mankind’s initial decision to disobey Him, He began to reveal that plan.  Here are just a few of the prophecies leading up to 1 Samuel 16:

  1. The Savior would come as the offspring of woman, not as a superhero invading the world (Gen. 3:15).
  2. The Messiah would come as a descendant of Shem (Gen. 9:26, 27).
  3. He was to come as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3).
  4. Though an Israelite, He would be the conduit of blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3).
  5. He was to be a descendant of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12).

I suppose we could have predicted from the outset that things would not work out with Saul.  After all, he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  But as God directs Samuel once again to take up his anointing oil, he directs him to the insignificant town of Bethlehem, to the family of Jesse from the tribe of Jerusalem.  True to form, God’s choice of the next king and of the next milestone person in the lineage of the Savior was not necessarily the logical one.  In fact, it may have been almost frustrating to Samuel.  God had warned him about looking at outward appearance because He was looking at the heart (v. 7).  Indeed the sons of Jesse all passed by Samuel without any green light from God.  Finally, there was but one left . . . and he was the youngest, the least likely, the one out in the field tending sheep.

But David was God’s anointed!  Though he was not the Messiah, he was the next chosen king of Israel.  And from his house and upon his throne the One Messiah would one day reign (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

God is leading all things towards the completion of His eternal plan.  You can trust Him.

Steve Kern