August 10 – Perseverance – When things go right

Read Hebrews 12:2 and Ephesians 6:17-18

Dolly Parton is the fourth of 12 children and grew up in an extremely poor home. She married Dean, who is now retired from running an asphalt road-paving business. Dolly suffered from endometriosis, a condition which eventually required her to undergo a hysterectomy. So they don’t have children of their own.

In interviews and in her music, she has looked back on her destitute upbringing, concluding that, while she values the lessons it taught her, she would not want to go back.

She wrote a song titled, “When life is good again”:

“When life is good again

I’ll be a better friend,

A bigger person when,

Life is good again,

More thoughtful than I’ve been,

I’ll be so different then,

More in the moment…

I’ll open up my heart,

And let the whole world in,

I’ll try to make amends…”

Parton sings that she will prioritize her personal relationships and share her appreciation for life when life is good again.

Whether things are going right or wrong in our lives, we must persevere – with persistent effort despite opposition – in our relationships. Work to improve relationships with others. Continue to talk and listen to God.

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.” Ephesians 6:13-15

Because God’s gift of salvation is an eternal gift, believers should persevere in the Christian life, whatever the circumstances.

To persevere when things go right, we need to keep God first!

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Hebrews 12:1-2

When things go right, you are most vulnerable.

On November 30, 2013, Alabama and Auburn were playing in a college football game. With the score 28 to 28, there was one second left in the game. Alabama attempted to win the game with a 43-yard field goal attempt. What happened next was unforgettable for anybody who watched it, including me (see video below).

When things go well, you cannot relax! Be prepared for trials.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2,4

Dolly Parton’s attitude of perseverance is admirable. Take time today to patiently listen to God and develop an attitude of perseverance, regardless of your circumstances. 

Tom Weckesser

August 8 – Perseverance – While displaying kindness

Read Psalm 141:5 and Ephesians 4:29

When I think of perseverance, I begin to sweat. I feel drenched, exhausted, and short of breath. You see, perseverance reminds me of training to be a stand-out athlete with lots of running and exercise. In order to be a good athlete, you must train and practice over and over. And so, all that practice and working out makes me think of running, lifting weights and…sweating.

Not my cup of tea.

I can think of other pursuits I would rather persevere towards. One such area would be to pursue kindness. We hear the slogan “Be Kind” in a lot of places today. It’s on t-shirts, posters, and embedded in children’s programming.

A single act of kindness here and there is not all that hard to achieve.

When a teacher encourages students to be kind in the classroom, they will look for a dropped pencil to pick up, or assist a fellow student in picking up trash in the hallway. Often, when students are caught being kind, they are rewarded with a treat or recognition. As an adult, it is not that difficult to contribute to a community food drive or help a neighbor care for their pets. We feel good about ourselves when we are kind.

Living a consistent lifestyle that demonstrates kindness requires perseverance. Being kind sometimes requires a person to share some hard truth. Perhaps a child needs to be corrected for inappropriate behavior, or a spouse needs to be reminded that their words hurt, or an employee needs to be told about a mistake they made. It would be easy to look the other way and ignore these problems, but it wouldn’t be kind. In the moment, the truth may not seem kind, and may not be received well. That’s why consistent kindness over time is important. Kind words and actions build trust and demonstrate love. Then, when a hard truth must be shared, it will be more easily swallowed.

Psalm 141:5 says

“Let the righteous man strike me – that is a kindness; let him rebuke me- that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of the evildoers.”

We all can begin training to be kind by following the advice found in Ephesians 4:29:

 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Pursuing kindness takes perseverance as it won’t happen overnight. It takes careful practice and repeated attempts to consistently respond with kindness. Perhaps you are a person who needs to accept the truthful words of a kind person. It can be difficult to hear that you aren’t doing something correctly or need to stop doing something hurtful. You may not even perceive the behavior as inappropriate, but let the kind words of a trusted advisor sink in and change you, even though it stings.

Use your words carefully today. Be kind…even if it requires a little sweat on your part.

Tammy Finney

June 29 – Names of Jesus – Mediator

Read 1 Timothy 6:15-16, Colossians 1:21-22, Ephesians 2:8-9, Hebrews 7:25, 1 Timothy 2:5-6

Five adult bodies, plus a Shih-tzu puppy, were crammed into my daughter, Kelsey’s, 2001 Jetta. We were headed to Flagstaff, AZ, which is a hair over two hours from Phoenix, where Kels lives. Spending the day shopping and taking in the town we had run out of adventure and kicked around the idea of going to the Grand Canyon. Some were interested; some were not. While conversing with a chatty, young girl at one of the shops, she assured us it was worth the trip. “You can be there in an hour and a half, tops!” Convinced, I pushed in that direction, so, off we went.

Google agreed with the chatty girl but for some reason it took us more like two and a half hours to get there. Trying to pass the time, we played games, but it was a l-o-o-n-g ride while we tried to stay out of each other’s personal space. There was ample time for my mind to wander to comments I had heard in the past, it’s just a hole in the ground, it’s not a big deal.

Arriving (mostly ecstatic about exiting the tiny Jetta) we trekked to the rim. As we walked, doubts were still circling around us like an annoying swarm of mosquito’s, until we finally got close enough to peer over the edge. Gasping, we took in the enormous view. God’s imagination and creative power on display left me tingly. I was awe-struck by the depth, expanse, and beauty. There was not an ounce of disappointment in me. Not one.

I don’t know if you’ve had the joy of seeing the Grand Canyon in person? I hope you have, but if not, could you imagine yourself standing on one rim and God standing on the other? Now, imagine trying to get to Him. If you’re anything like me, you immediately start thinking of ways: calling for a helicopter (my personal favorite), rounding up climbing gear, filling a backpack with water and food, finding a companion to go on the journey with you.

It’s our human nature to think we can get to God, isn’t it. We think we can somehow make it happen if we plan well enough, work hard enough, think smart enough. But as we read today God is ‘unapproachable light.’ The only way into His presence is pure perfection and we fall short.

Thank God He made a way to bridge the chasm. No gear required. None of my effort required, just a humble, life saving, admission of faith that I need Him.

Jesus is the one and only mediator. He is the pure, perfect, peacemaker that takes me from enemy to friend. From alienated to reconciled. The cost was great as He laid down His holy life for my necessary ransom and I’m forever grateful that He mediates for me.

Shelly Eberly

Questions to consider

  • What does this name of Jesus mean to you?
  • How would you describe the giant chasm between God and you in your own life? In what way did it cause you to lean into a relationship with Him?
  • What feeling does it bring you to know that God is incredible and divine yet personable? How can this truth, and the illustration of the Grand Canyon, influence someone to trust in Him for the first time?

April 23 – Grace – Amazing Grace

Read John 1:16 and Ephesians 2:8

What is amazing grace?

We sing about “amazing grace” in a number of worship songs. We talk about God’s grace in church. Do we really know what amazing grace is?

Amazing grace is a part of the greatest redemption story of all time. Forgiveness is possible despite the sins we commit and the soul can be made new through the mercy of God. The love story of Jesus’ sacrifice through life, death, and resurrection is amazing grace. God gave up His son for our sins, knowing we would sin against Him time and time again. He still chose us and continues to choose us.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”

Titus 2:11-12

“How precious did that grace appear…the hour I first believed.” Two powerful lines in the song, Amazing Grace. The truth is we did not deserve salvation, but the moment we first experienced God’s amazing grace was so precious. The moment is sweet and surreal. You desire to surrender every ounce of your being to Him. You sacrifice pieces of yourself to live a self-controlled and righteous life for Him. This is a beautiful moment. 

Next time you sing “Amazing Grace” in church, I challenge you to truly think about how amazing God’s grace truly is. Think about what your life might look like without God’s forgiveness and redemption. Thank and worship Him for saving you from the brokenness and emptiness you would experience without His absolutely amazing grace.

April 19 – Grace – Saving Grace

Read Ephesians 2: 1-10

Some of the best stories I hear about include a rescue and victorious ending. That is what we read here in Ephesians. It is more than a story or an account of someone else. If we are followers of Jesus Christ, it is our story. It is a story where our despair and death are turned into a victorious redemption and resurrection. 

In verse 1, Paul reminds individuals in the church in Ephesus that they lived in a dead state.  That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s so true. It is the same for us. We lived according to our cravings (v. 3) and fed them. What cravings and thoughts have you gratified? That kind of a life is a sad and empty existence, and yet we may have temporary happiness. 

We were deserving of wrath (v.3). You may be taken back by this last sentence. Wrath is expressed by an angry judge or an authority that has the power to punish wrong. Our holy and sinless God has the authority to extend that to us. The God of the universe and our hearts is perfect! He desires to have a relationship with us. He created each one of us for that exact purpose.

He created us to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship with us.  We chose to follow the “ways of the world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (v.2)

Now, the Victor enters with a triumphant message of redemption. This in true for each one who chooses to place their faith and trust in Jesus and His powerful love. Our gracious God knew what we needed and provided it through the death, burial, and resurrection of His only Son Jesus. 

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin- it is by grace you have been saved.” v. 4-5

This all has a wonderful purpose. We have been rescued and brought to spiritual life. It is a gift! Have you received it? If not, ask for it by faith! If you have, are you seeing your life as a handiwork of God and engaged in good works that He has prepared for you? (8-10)

Each day and moment we can walk in His purpose and plan for our lives if we choose to and live out the amazing grace that was extended to us and covers our sin. Live it loud and share it boldly!

Celeste Kern

December 27 – Gospel Readthrough – Matthew 1

Read Matthew 1:1-25, Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2:13

I couldn’t pass up writing this devotional. Speaking of passing up, did you pass through that list of names in Matthew 1, or did you savor some of them, at least?

No shame here. I realize that I’m writing to a group of readers in various stages of their lives with Jesus. It’s only recently that I’ve come to recognize a lot of those names and have grown to appreciate the stories that accompany them. Keep reading! You’re doing great!

As important as that list of names is, I’m fast forwarding to my favorite part of this chapter… “they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

I can’t get enough of this truth. I need God to be with me every moment.

Jesus told His disciples in John 16:7 that He would be leaving them. This had to be devastating news from the One they had come to love. But He also told them He was leaving them with something better, His Spirit. Not only do we receive forgiveness and a place of belonging when we put our faith in Jesus, His Spirit also comes to dwell in us.

I’ve been reading through the New Testament and just read Acts 13 this morning. This is an account of Barnabas and Paul’s first adventure of traveling to share the gospel. In this single chapter we learn of the ‘high’ they experienced as almost the whole city gathered to hear them share the word of the Lord. A few sentences later we feel the weight of their ‘low’ as they endure rejection and persecution for their obedience. Then we read this humbling verse…” And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)

If Barnabas and Paul only rode on the surface of their experiences, they would have found joy impossible to embrace.

It’s not that hard to find ourselves skimming along on the ups and downs of life ourselves. My family has gone through some lows being caught up in the mix of an illness of a loved one and the restrictions put on us by a world with COVID.

It feels impossible and sad.

And I’m not alone.

Now, if I’m stuck with someone I find annoying, if I have a companion I can’t trust, if I’m bound to someone who constantly reminds me how much they don’t know me, it’s torture.

But Jesus is trustworthy. He does know me. He loves me. He understands grief and suffering. He walks in joy and victory. He is my perfect companion and friend.

And He has the power to change my highs and lows. He has the wisdom to work everything for my good. He not only walks with me, He carries all of my luggage (even uphill).

What luggage are you carrying around? In what way do you need to entrust it to the Lord? How has He showed up for you in the past?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:8-10)

God gets us.

He is behind, ahead, and with us.

And He’s someone I love being ‘stuck’ with.

Shelly Eberly

December 10 – Family Christmas – Introduction

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Family Christmas

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Introduction

Read Ephesians 2:19

“You are members of God’s family.”  – Ephesians 2:19 (NLT)

Imagine if God were to have a family reunion. What would that look like? There would probably be some very interesting and unexpected people there. I think it’s safe to say that the lineage and family tree of Jesus Christ is as colorful as a Christmas tree. 

You may look at it and say, “That person doesn’t look like they belong in the family tree of the Savior of the world.” But that’s the beauty of the gospel: no one belongs; yet everyone belongs. This tree is full of imperfect and unique characters—ordinary people God used in extraordinary ways to carry out His ultimate plan of salvation. 

We can learn so much from Jesus’ relatives. But the best lesson we learn is that, through Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God. That means that you and I, and everyone who has made the decision to follow Jesus, has been grafted into His family tree, made sons and daughters of God, and we have a part to play in this epic story.

Over the next 12 days, we’re going to take a journey through history . . . your history! We’ll explore our family heritage, see how the Old Testament brings us to Christmas through the lives and stories of different people in Jesus’ line, learn some unique aspects of their characters, and see where we belong in God’s bigger story of redemption. 

As you read and reflect on these devotionals, my prayer is that you’ll learn where the roots of your identity come from and the great lengths that God went to so you can belong to Him and His family of faith! I also pray that, just like the people we’ll be studying, you’ll be able to leave a legacy of faith that will continue to impact people long after you’re gone.

October 1 – Living Courageously – Let Go (Let God)

Read Ephesians 4:31-32 and Jeremiah 29:11

In 1519 Hernan Cortes landed in Veracruz, Mexico to conquer the Aztecs and take possession of their vast treasure. Cortes landed with only 600 men. They were outnumbered by the Aztecs who had far superior weaponry and armor. So, what did Cortes do?  He ordered the unthinkable and ordered all the ships that brought them to fight the Aztecs be burnt.  

Why in the world would he do such a thing? 

He did this so his army would have no possible way of retreat.  There was no way for them to get home.  For Cortes and his army, it was either victory or death.  Going back was not an option.  There was no turning back. 

So why do I share all of this with you?  Because you and I need to BURN OUR SHIPS!

There have been way too many times in my life (and perhaps you can relate) when I have said that I have “handed over things to the Lord” or when I claim to have let go of it and put it in the Lord’s hands.  However, too many times I pick it back up.  It could be a time you were wronged that haunts you, a worry, a fear, a habit, a struggle, a hurt, an unhealthy relationship, or countless other things.  I say I have given it to the Lord in faith, only to go back to it and carry it myself. 

We need to take a “victory or death” approach when it comes to the mission that Christ has given us. We spend our lives growing as disciples who make disciples for the glory of Christ.  We can’t go back to our former way of life.  The days of us being bitter, angry and malicious are over.  The days of self-reliance are over. When we become a follow of Jesus, we immediately become a new creation. We are called to love one another and be compassionate and forgiving, just as God forgives us. How can we do that if we are still going back to our ships that are filled with our former way of living? 

I have found that one of the most freeing moments in my life are when I have taken my cares to the foot of the cross and left them there. When I have temporarily taken them there, only to come back later and pick them back up and carry them around myself, I have found pain and further heartache and hurt. 

Can you think of a relationship where someone has wronged you or hurt you and you can’t let go of the pain, no matter how hard you try?  We are commanded by the God of heaven to forgive JUST AS HE FORGAVE US!  We can’t move forward without forgiveness.  And we can’t move forward if we keep going back to our ships. 

No retreat! 

Let’s burn our ships!

Nate Mills

September 17 – A Changing Culture – Parenting

Read Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

That is sometimes easier said than done.  Just what is “the way he should go?”  This little “bundle of joy” didn’t come with an owner’s manual. . . or did they?

Nothing is more precious than to hold a newborn baby in your arms for the first time.  They stretch and squirm, maybe let out a few little purrs and squeals.  They might blink their eyes as they adjust to this strange new world of light.  Soon they start looking around and may even focus on your face.

They stare at you mystified at what they are seeing.  Eventually they start to imitate you.  You smile, they smile, you frown, they frown – so fasten your seatbelts, your job of parenting has begun.  

It can be scary. There are plenty of books and even YouTube videos on how to take care of your baby physically, but parenting involves more than physical needs.  And, in our changing culture, you might think this is just too complicated. 

But is it? 

God has given each of us an instruction book of life, the Bible.  It doesn’t just apply to adults but to raising children as well.   You might think, “That’s a pretty thick book.  How could I ever find what I need?” You can start with the ten commandments. They pretty much cover everything that our culture is trying to turn upside down! Jesus even made it easier for us when He narrowed it down to just two.  Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  If you think about it, no matter how crazy the world or culture changes, those two commandments never change and they apply to everything.

From day one this little “bundle of joy” has had you under surveillance.  Watching your every move, your expressions, your reactions, your speech patterns and words.  They have been imitating you because you, to them, are their guide through this jungle called life.  You yell, they will yell, you get frustrated easily, they will do the same. But if you are kind and generous, and love others, guess what they will do?  You love the Lord, not just in words but in actions, they will do the same.

Let’s face it, life is rough! Kids don’t need parents who are “saints”, ones who never make mistakes, know all the right answers. They need GENUINE parents who make mistakes, have problems but, most of all, confess those mistakes and seek God’s help to correct them!

What kind of example are you setting for your kids, and the kids around you, through your actions and words?

Be genuine!

Kids can detect a fake in a second!

Teach them to love God and His ways (not the world’s) and, when they are old, they will not depart from it.  

That’s a promise!

Pat Arnold

September 15 – A Changing Culture – Opportunities

Read Ephesians 5:15-16; Colossians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15

We are followers of Jesus Christ. We are the light that once was darkness. The ones who used to live asleep until Jesus showed up and made us His light. We are light in the dark where evil prevails and pointless moments abound.  

So “make the most of every opportunity.”

Paul wrote these words, not just to Christians in Ephesus, but to those in Colosse as well. When Christ-followers walk with eyes wide open, looking for ways to redeem a moment, the fruitless becomes fruitful; the light of Jesus Christ and His truth become visible to those who don’t yet know the hope of eternity and real life. Culture changes one moment at a time when you and I intentionally look for opportunities to let the truth of Jesus Christ be seen.

It might start with a smile, a nod, a mere acknowledgement of a person who might not otherwise feel seen. Make the most of an opportunity like that, because our God is the God who sees.

Or maybe you’ll be driving to work and someone will cut you off in traffic. Make the most of the opportunity to bless and not curse them. Pray for them instead of showing your irritation. Maybe pray for your own heart, too.

There are so many opportunities to redeem the moments.

Maybe you’ll be walking your dog and you’ll pass by a neighbor you’ve never met. Pause and think of a way to make the most of that walk. 

It starts with following Jesus into every next step.

If you’re not walking with Him, then the less-than-fruitful moments remain as they are and the culture you and I live in stays fruitless. “(L)ive not as unwise (foolish, rejecting God’s leading) but as wise.” The way to walk fully into each moment is to humbly let God be the Lord of your whole life, asking God how to redeem each moment and claim it for Him.

Are you standing by, ready to redeem the moments in your day? Start by looking for just one. Then look for ways to let Jesus shine through you and go for it! Let God change the culture, one redeemed moment at a time.

Bria Wasson