January 26 – Best Year Yet – It Only Goes Up from Here!

Read John 15:1-17

“Best Year Yet”…that is the title we have assigned to this devotional series. By now, you should understand what we don’t mean by those three words. We aren’t trying to suggest that 2019 can be free from pain, disappointments, difficulty, and tension. I can assure you that this year will include all of those. Only a future eternity with Christ will be void of those current realities here.

These “Best Year Yet” readings have, instead, tried to recognize the disappointing realities of life while offering important biblical insights. These insights may not change what you experience, but they will impact how you respond. In that regard, 2019 can be the “best year yet” because you are different. And 2020 could be even better yet. The truth is that life could, potentially, only get better from here, because you are choosing to pursue the right things and respond the right way.

In John 15, Jesus offers you some insight into this “fruitful life” that we are talking about. In fact, He even described fruit bearing as part of His very purpose in selecting His followers (v. 16). When you remain in Him, you position yourself to bear fruit.

That last sentence merits further description. It begs the definition of “remaining in Him” and “fruit bearing.” What is it to “remain in Christ”? The context helps us. “Remaining in Christ” is to live life intentionally aware of and in submission to His authority and leadership. It is to bask consciously in His love and seek to reflect that love to other people (vv. 9-12). It is to give priority to the word of God and to obedience to it (vv. 7, 10). With those definitions in mind, will you choose today to remain in Him?

What about “fruit bearing”? “Fruit bearing” is the product of remaining in Him. This fruit includes the blessing that comes from obedience. It will manifest itself in the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, 23). It may also result in other souls that will be won to Christ (1 Cor 3:5-9).

No matter what this year holds with regard to your experiences, 2019 can still be the “best year yet” because you are choosing to remain in Christ. And, as a result, you are bearing fruit that brings Him honor.

Steve Kern

January 25 – Best Year Yet – Setting Goals

Read Proverbs 21:5

Goals and time management are an essential part of my daily routine. Attending university, serving as student body president, and managing my responsibilities in ministry often create a perfect storm of chaos! So, most mornings I begin my day at about 6:30AM in the word, praying, and then setting my priorities for the day.

Unfortunately, the discipline required for the intentionality in my scheduling has not always been a part of my daily routine. In fact, in the ignorance of high school I used to actually believe goal setting was for the weak. That, for some reason or other, those who took the time to set priorities for themselves were incapable of leading in a high capacity. Soon I would realize just how wrong that notion was. In order to lead in a high capacity, the opposite of my thought process was true- it is imperative to not only set priorities, but to also benchmark those priorities with dates of expected completion and measures of accountability.

This concept is actually purely biblical, as we learned in today’s Proverb. Note the author’s word choice in our reading. He equates the responsibility of goal setting with diligence. Diligence is the idea of intentionality. It’s the concept that I am consciously setting aside time to plan and prepare. When was the last time you sat down to set goals? Maybe you are reading this now and saying, “Well, Taylor, keep reading on, the author says with great diligence comes profit. And to be honest, I am quite profitable.” My response? Sure. You might see profits in your world despite lacking true diligence, but these are only the profits you have realized. Imagine the potential of these blessings, if you truly had goals and priorities.

Goal setting is an important part of anyone’s life. Certainly priorities are necessary for your work, organizations you lead, and projects, but goals also have personal and spiritual applications as well. I wonder what your goals are for your walk with Christ this year? How do you want to grow in your faith? Where do you hope to see God move your family this year?

One of the best resources I have learned at the university about goals is setting SMART goals. More information on SMART goals can be found at the link below:

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

I challenge you today to set aside some time to decide on priorities for the year in your work, for your family, and, above all, for how you plan to have a closer walk with Jesus Christ in the year ahead.

There is always a next step.

Taylor Bennington

January 24 – Best Year Yet – Be Prepared, Work Hard

Read Proverbs 6:11

“Be prepared” is the Boy Scout motto. I learned it at an early age and found that it is a great game plan for life.

My parents always taught me that hard work may be difficult and challenging, but it is worthwhile. They said it, modeled it, lived it and proved it to me. I have also learned that, if you are working at something you enjoy, it can make a positive difference. We have tried to teach these lessons to our family: be prepared, work hard and have fun.

“A man reaps what he sows.”  (1 Corinthians 9:6b NIV)

Bill Rafferty is a college basketball broadcaster who is enjoyable to listen to. His passion for the game itself, as well as the players and coaches, is obvious and contagious. He enjoys it, and he is good at broadcasting.

I have read about his diligent preparation. He watches hours of video each week, pouring over previous games played by the teams he will be covering. He interviews players, coaches and others involved in basketball, looking for little ideas and insights into what players and teams will be doing on game day as well as relevant stories, strengths, weaknesses and injury statuses.

And over 90 percent of the information Bill gathers does not get used!

He is prepared. He is ready and has the attitude of doing the best you can and maybe do more than is required.

“A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.”. Proverbs 22:3 MSG

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence of Clemson wore Galatians 6:9 (“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”) on his wristband in the 2019 National Championship football game when he led his team to a victory over Alabama. After the game, he talked about Jesus and the value of doing good. He was prepared and he obviously worked hard to get there.

And his Coach, Dabo Swinney, tries to model the lessons taught in the book Lead . . . for God’s Sake! A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership by Todd G. Gongwer. It is about honoring God first in our lives, being prepared, working hard and having fun.

What are some ways that you can prepare yourself for hard work this year?

Tom Weckesser

 

 

January 23 – Best Year Yet – Be the Best Friend You Can Be

Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

I don’t like to be needy.  I like to take care of things on my own and, when I can’t, I get a little grouchy.  It’s humbling to ask for help.  On the flip side, I have some amazing people in my life that will come running if I call.  It’s just that calling part. God knows I’m needy even when I won’t admit it.  He is a genius and knows we all have ‘neediness’ in common.  He says it best when he tells us that we’re better together.

I wrote the above paragraph about 17 hours ago and then just sat and stared at my computer screen.  Words would not come.  I prayed.  I journaled.  Nothing.  I was sitting on a pile of angst.  Do you know what an angst pile is?  It’s basically a life pile…a pile of to-do’s, concerns, difficulties, deadlines, decisions…you know, angst.  I had been texting with a friend in the morning and she reached out to me again last night while I was staring at my empty screen.  She had a feeling from our conversation earlier that I might be in need.  There’s that word again.  I don’t like it.  I know I need Jesus and I’m confident He is with me.  I figure He and I have it covered, and He is more than capable of meeting all of my needs.

He is, but sometimes He sends people.

What followed was some grumpy comments on my part and some positive ones on her’s.  Some truth back and forth.  Some honesty and some understanding.  Some well-timed, good news she knew that I needed to hear.  Some laughter…lots of laughter.  A little more venting and a whole lot of prayer.

Like it says in our passage in Ecclesiastes, I had fallen down, but sadly, I wasn’t willing to ask anyone to help me up.  God showed up and provided what I was too proud to ask for,  and you know what?  I felt lighter.  I was humbled, which is a hard and yet, perfect place to be to hear the voice of God.  I was inspired.  Best of all: I knew I was loved.

When our conversation was over, my angst pile was still there; that hadn’t changed.  What did change was having someone to share it with.  Not just anyone but someone that loves me and keeps pointing me to Jesus.

Godly friendship is like a breath of fresh air.  Who can you breathe life into by offering them friendship in 2019?

Shelly Eberly

 

 

 

January 22 – Best Year Yet – Where is God?

Read Isaiah 30:18

At this point in his life, Austin Carlile was at the top of the world. He was the lead singer of world renowned band Of Mice and Men and was an icon for a sea of super fans. The band was succeeding incredibly as they were consistently touring with other mega bands. However, it was in the midst of all this success that Austin felt like something was missing. A hole had figuratively been punched through his heart as his mother died when he was 17. No matter how much he fought to fill that void with success and popularity as well as drugs, sex and alcohol, it wasn’t being filled.

In an I am Second video, Austin tells the story of calling his Dad from the top of the band’s tour bus asking, “Is this it?” Was what he was experiencing the best that life could offer? His dad’s answer was actually a very simple question:

“Where is God?”

This is a question that all of us are confronted with at one point of our life. When we live our life our own way, we believe that we are doing what’s truly best for us. If you’re like Austin, you may even “find what you’re looking for”. It’s at this point when you realize that what you found isn’t really what it’s cut out to be.

Our passage in Isaiah tells us that God longs to be gracious to us and that He waits on high to have compassion on those who long for Him. God is waiting to bless you; are you in the correct position to receive that gift?

No matter where you are in your life, where is God? How important is your relationship with Him? Are you going through the motions or are you living your life to glorify Him and to advance the Kingdom? When God is at the center of your life, you are primed for blessing and for the best year of your life!

Will you be honest with yourself to ask where God is in your life? Do you need to bring Him back to the center? Are you holding anything back from Him? Where is God?

Here is the I am Second video from Austin. It is my prayer that you find encouragement through his words:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL2nkBXAKC8

If you want 2019 to be the best year yet, identify where God is in your life and position Him even closer to the center.

Jake Lawson

 

January 21 – Best Year Yet – Highest Peaks & Lowest Valleys

Read James 1:12-18

I live on a steep hill. Every day when I take a walk, I am reminded of the elevation change. My heart rate quickens and my muscles strain as I climb that hill from the road to my house. My neighbor and friend lives at the bottom of the hill. She always reminds me of the amazing views from my home and yard, and I remind her of how cozy and nestled-in her home feels. We’ve discovered that the two vantage points are really distinct, and that both have pros and cons.

In life, we like to see clearly. We like to know what’s next. We thrive during the “peak” experiences. It seems like all too soon the peaks naturally slope downward and we find ourselves running to keep from falling as we head into a valley. What does God have for us in those valley moments?

The hemmed-in feeling of the valley offers protection. Though we may not have a long sight of vision, the valley moments of life might be protection by God. His hand might just put us there to prepare us or protect us for the next thing we are moving onto. When times are hard, we are more apt to press into God and really seek His face rather than tumbling head over heels into our own wills. The famous 23rd Psalm reminds us that “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Scripture clarifies for us that the valley seasons of life are times when God’s Presence is ever-close to us and a deep source of comfort.

As I huff and puff up my driveway, I am reminded that the valley offered some respite before the climb. The clarity of the peaks in life come linked with responsibility.  The valley is good preparation for the peak moments. If we didn’t have that desperate reliance on God, if we didn’t know how to reach for His hand when all feels dark and overwhelming, how could we use the bright moments to shine for Him? We likely would shine for ourselves only.

Sacha Kauffman

January 20 – Best Year Yet – Healthy Habits

Read 1 Corinthians 6:12

A habit is something we do often and regularly (Collins dictionary). As a college instructor, I teach mostly health classes. I try to convince my students that developing healthy habits would be one of the best things they can do – spiritually, physically and emotionally.

Many students work to develop healthy daily habits such as sleep, a positive attitude, eating a variety of foods, relax, exercise, staying hydrated and having a quiet time to grow spiritually. I suggest reading the Bible.

But many of my students neglect the healthy habit of getting enough rest. They probably know the value of sleep, but it is not a high priority.

Adequate sleep promotes physical recovery and aspects of memory and learning. This is when the brain consolidates information from the previous day so that it can be stored in your long-term memory. (National Sleep Foundation).

Jesus modeled the perfect balance between rest and alertness. Trusting calmly in the protection and provision of His Father, Jesus slept peacefully in the bow of a ship during a raging tempest.

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.”. Luke 8:22-23 (NIV)

Like Jesus, we should try to never lose sleep because of worry, fear, loneliness, anxiety, relational tensions, or tasks left undone. Based on His unmerited favor, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves as we sleep. He provides for our needs and protects us from harm’s way.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

“I cast all my cares upon You
I lay all of my burdens down at your feet,
And anytime I don’t know what to do
I will cast all my cares upon You.”

(a song written in 1978 by Kelly Willard)

https://youtu.be/b_ecHXC8lic

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”. Psalm 4:8

By making adequate sleep a priority, we can wake up refreshed and hopefully better fulfill God’s purposes in our lives.

Tom Weckesser

January 19 – Best Year Yet – Relationships: The Good and the Bad

Read 1 Corinthians  13:4-7

As every new year approaches, we often reflect on many areas of our lives. One large area of our lives that takes on reflection is that of our relationships.

I will be the first to admit that there are people out there in the world that I would rather prefer not to be around. People who I have had an acquaintance with that I tend to shy away from due to differences of personality or even beliefs. Then, there are the relationships that I reflect on, trying to see how I can spend more time with those individuals, how I can be a pillar for them, invest in them, love on them.

Then, I read the verses Paul writes to the Church of Corinth. Now this church, this body of believers, had so many issues inter-personally and spiritually. So much seemed to be going wrong that Paul needed to shed light on; one area was their relationship with each other, as the body, and their relationships with unbelievers.

We hear this verse so often, mostly at marriage ceremonies, but it is one portion of scripture that seems to be memorized more than others… I wonder why?

There is a timeless truth that love is not just an emotion but an action, and, here, Paul is conveying what the action of love to ALL looks like. The action directly correlates with who God is. If God is love, and we are called to be Christ to those around us, believing and lost, shouldn’t we take into account the verb behind the word?  Not just to the people we prefer, but to the ones we don’t prefer.  With each description written out in these verses, a person comes to mind and the conviction from the Lord is to pray for this person and exemplify Christ is some way, shape, or form.

Now, this alone takes emotional and mental growth, but,  I believe, because YOU were made in the spiritual image of God, that you – that WE – have the ability to access the kind of love Paul writes about.

So I implore you, I challenge myself, with each word of what love is. Write down a name that comes to mind. Pray for them. Access the Spirit of Christ within you and figure out a way to begin or continue being Jesus to them.

For those people who we don’t have a relationship that brings a smile, it will be hard before better; but at least we are making a step in the direction of the light that is narrow and making 2019 the best year yet.

Kelly Lawson

January 18 – Best Year Yet – Financial Freedom

Read Proverbs 13:22 and Matthew 6:19-24

About 2 years ago, my husband and I decided to buckle down and create a budget. Not only did this allow us to become better stewards of the money God had given us, we were also able to begin to tithe faithfully, WHILE setting ourselves up for success to get out of debt. While there was a bit of a learning curve, the relief was immediate. No longer was there the undercurrent of “fear and reckless spending” that seemed to have crept into our lives. Since then, we have made incredible strides towards getting out of debt and are, in fact, almost debt-free!

Being a responsible steward means living out the truth that “our” money does not belong to us in the first place. Money, time, our abilities… it all belongs to God! We don’t spend money on something just because “we want it.” Having everything we want is no longer our goal! In fact, being on a budget has forced us to better distinguish our “wants” from our needs. It has reminded us to be thankful. It has helped us prioritize giving back to God. And, thus, we spend/save what is necessary with gratitude.

Good stewardship also steers us away from the temptations of laziness and foolish spending, which not only affects us, but also has negative, long term results for our family. When we live in financial freedom, we are able to rejoice in Him as our provider and set our family up for success by creating a healthy attitude towards money. AND, in the long run, wise decisions will perhaps allow us to be a vessel of financial blessing for those around us!

Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone’s generosity? We have. What a blessing! It inspired us to want to get out of debt even MORE, so we could also be a blessing someday. As Dave Ramsey so famously says: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live and give like no one else.”

Financial freedom is possible and it starts with surrender. It all belongs to God! And, are we not called to surrender? Today, choose to serve God. Do not let yourself be controlled by money here on earth. Live with eyes set on the eternal.

You can set yourself up for financial freedom by attending a Financial Peace University class at Grace (http://woostergrace.org/events/financial-peace-university-9/), or by reading Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover.

Beth Starkey

January 17 – Best Year Yet – Are You Happy?

Read Psalm 37:1-40

Do these phrases ring a bell? “Don’t worry, be happy!” or “Happiness is a choice!”.  Songs and books have been written to help us take our thoughts and emotions to a place of happiness. Little children learn the song, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!” What if we sang that song today? Would you clap your hands because you’re happy?

We just finished a busy and full Christmas season of family gatherings and gift giving. If we look at the many Facebook posts and pictures of these events and don’t know what happened before or after, we could easily believe that they are all happy.

As I get older, I don’t expect to be happy every day.  Trying to reach an emotional happiness to fulfill me and bring me to a sweet spot of giddy delight is actually a lost cause. Why? Because, as I search scripture, I really can’t find that it is God’s desire for me to get what I want in order to be satisfied and delighted. Looking at God’s plan for my life through the lens of scripture gives me a better picture of reality. His plan brings me more joy that satisfies my deep desire: to know Him better and glorify His name. In knowing me and creating my heart and soul, He knows what I need. I don’t! This isn’t easy. I am a fallen woman learning to surrender on deeper levels all the time. Psalm 37 helps me to keep perspective…God’s perspective.

Look at a few instructions for us here in Psalm 37.

  • Vs. 5- Commit my way to Him; trust in Him
  • Vs.9- Hope in the Lord
  • Vs. 21- Give generously

It is interesting that a future inheritance is mentioned so often in this passage. The Lord has many blessings planned for those who follow and trust Him. What a great hope! Take a moment and make a list of these promises to focus on when you’re struggling with circumstances that are perplexing and difficult.

The daily situations I face give me an opportunity to “delight in the Lord” (vs. 4)…not to find happiness in my circumstances.

Let Him write the verses and you and I can sing the refrain to the familiar chorus, “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength!” May your 2019 be filled with eternal joys and be the best year yet!

Celeste Kern