January 7 – Habits – Asking for help

Read James 1:5

Each year in the fall, I can my own applesauce. If you do this too, you know it is a process that can take an entire day. I was prepared to process about three bushels of apples this one particular day. I dumped the first pan of cooked apples in the strainer and turned the crank. Pop! The whole strainer fell apart like a cartoon contraption. Hot apples went everywhere on the table and floor.  I cleaned up the wasted apples, and managed to put the strainer back together without burning my fingers. I tried to run some apples through again but it came apart again!

I needed help!

Have you ever felt desperate for help? What do you do in situations like these? I become single-minded in my quest to problem-solve and find a solution and try to fix it on my own. Sometimes that strategy works, but often times, the problem is beyond my control.

Then what?

 “If you need wisdom – if you want to know what God wants you to do – ask Him, and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.”

It’s a simple three- letter word, yet so hard to do – ask.

What makes this so difficult to do?

  • We don’t want to be seen as weak or incapable of doing something that others seem to handle just fine. We tell ourselves lies about being able to conquer all the challenges we encounter.
  • We don’t know what to ask for. The situation is complicated and seems hopeless so why bother asking for help?
  • We hope that ignoring the problem will just make it go away on its own. Asking for help means admitting a problem exists.

None of these are good excuses for resisting help. When we seek out help, we are actually living the way God designed us to live.

“I can do all things with the help of Christ who gives me strength…”

Paul did not say he could do it alone and neither should we. God welcomes our requests for help and will not resent our asking or think less of us. In our strong-willed, self-sufficient society, it seems that it is rarely acceptable to ask for help. This mindset is debilitating. It creates a reliance on self, not on community for which God designed us. We have unrealistic expectations of ourselves when we think we can do it all without help. In fact, God designed us to need each other. In Genesis 2:18, God said it’s not good for man to live alone and He created Eve as a helper for him. God knew that life would get rough and that we would need to rely on each other for help.

Have you been asked to help? That day when I needed help with my applesauce, I called a friend who had a strainer I could borrow. She showed up at my house within 30 minutes to help me the rest of the day. She was elated to lend a hand and meet my need. I imagine that is how it is for God who wants to help His children. He is thrilled to be asked for help!

The next time you are facing a situation that is beyond your capabilities, ask for help. When you don’t know what to do next, ask for help. Make it a habit to swallow your pride and seek the advice or help of others. Ask God to put people in your path who will respond when you need them. Ask God to use you to respond to the needs of others.

Tammy Finney

December 19 – Behind the Christmas Card – Coping with Grief

Read James 1:17

Christmas can be hard when you suffer loss, but despite the loss I have experienced, I believe God is STILL GOOD.

In 2011, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and in 2013, we could no longer have my dad take care of her and had to place her in a facility that knew how to deal with this awful disease.

By 2014, my mom was starting to not remember my dad or myself. In 2015, we lost my mom. The loss was so great for our family, especially for my dad, because they had been married for 65 years. Even though I never really had a relationship with my dad, our family decided to include my dad in every family get-together and holiday. During that time, I developed a closeness to my dad that I never thought possible.

As Christmas 2015 drew closer, both my dad and I were sad to think mom was no longer with us, so we asked dad to stay with us over the holidays. He was so excited to be with us on Christmas Eve and he even went to the 11:00 candlelight Christmas Eve service, then stayed up with us till 2 am talking and joking around! The next morning we all gathered together and dad was like a little kid in a candy store.

The Lord blessed us ALL that Christmas with the best gift ever. The chance to really get to know my dad.

Dad was a “Family Circus” cartoon addict and he would read it faithfully every day, and, if it pertained to any of us in the family, he would cut it out, put our initials on it and hand it to us with a chuckle. Well, the day after Christmas he cut out the one from the paper and put all our initials on it and said, “This is SO TRUE!” It read…”Santa’s going to have a hard time topping this Christmas next year.” Dad was right . . . it was going to be hard to top.

We did get one more Christmas with my dad before he passed last year, which we are forever grateful for.

As I go into another year without my parents, the loss is still great, but the Lord is still good. As I pulled out my dad’s stocking, I cried, remembering what a perfect gift I received that year. The GIFT of time with my dad, the GIFT of celebrating Jesus’ birth with him and the GIFT of knowing one day I will see them both again.

Missing a loved one is painful, but never more so than during the holidays – I know! But over the past few years, I’ve learned it’s okay to not be okay. The tears will flow, the sorrow may overtake you and paralyze you, but, just remember that there’s One who knows EXACTLY what that’s like. God knows! He is my lifeline and He wants to be yours. He cares and is never offended by our questions or our deep pain. He just doesn’t want us to stay there! The key is to keep turning to Him, He’s our peace in the midst of our pain!

It is so true what James writes in James 1:17, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.”

Lori Lehman

November 7 – Attributes of God – Wisdom

Read James 3:17 and Proverbs 19:20

Who is your hero?

Outside of the obvious Christian answer of “Jesus”, who would you say is the person you look up to and idolize the most? A parent? Spouse? Friend? Sibling?

To me, the answer is easy…

Dad.

To many, he is “Pastor Dave”. Many choose to see him as a serious and professional perfectionist while, when he calls me, “Dad” comes across the screen of my phone along with a picture of him photobombing a family photo.

Best. Photo. Ever.

I can confidently say that I would not be the man I am today without my dad. Not even close. His patience and guidance, along with the work of Christ, helped form me into the man I am today (I am by no means a finished product). There were definitely some high and lows, but Dad’s consistency and wisdom guided me through.

When I signed up for the devo about wisdom, my mind immediately shifted to Dad. I read our scripture today about how James describes wisdom that comes from Heaven and all of those words describes the wisdom of Dad that I have grown accustomed to. As long as I can remember, he has always been the source of wisdom for our family.

I remember his gentle guidance to me when Kelly and I had a pregnancy scare when Mattie was only a few months old…we were so not ready for another child! I remember his counsel when I was contemplating huge changes in my life in high school. When I was immature, angry and overly emotional, he would calmly guide me back to Christ. Before marrying Kelly, Dad was always my first call when I didn’t know what to do. He’s now my second : )

However, there is truth that Dad’s wisdom pales in comparison to that of God. When you read James 3:17, I love how he says that wisdom that comes from Heaven is “first of all pure”. This means that it is 100% authentic, natural…perfect. When you think of your own wisdom, would you say that James 3:17 describes it?

Proverbs 19:20 describes how we can grow in our wisdom…listen to wise people. So much of my life was spent thinking that I knew everything I needed to know and I didn’t need to listen to wise and godly counsel in my life. Looking back, I see all of the value in their words and the difficulties I brought upon myself by not listening.

Do you listen to people when they talk to you? Do you let certain people into your circle? Or are you so prideful to think that you don’t need the advice of other people? Proverbs tells us that, if we listen to advice and accept discipline, we will be counted among the wise.

Will you humble yourself enough to admit that other people can speak into your life and bring a positive change? Who do you need to listen to that you’ve been ignoring?

Jake Lawson

September 13 – Life Verses – John 15:1-8

Read John 15:1-8, Galatians 5:16-26, Colossians 1:9-14 and James 3:13-18

I’m lacking as a gardener but my green-thumbed friend, Kristen, doesn’t seem to care. Visiting her this spring, she insisted on entrusting me with a portion of her Dahlia plants.

Nervous, yet eager to be a sensible steward of these precious, plant babies, I asked Kristen a lot of questions (I also did my fair share of Googling). I learned that Dahlia’s are high maintenance plants. Their voluminous blooms are too hefty for their spindly stalks so they have to be tied to stakes as they grow 5-6’ high.

Without connection to a stake Dahlia’s won’t produce fruit.

Without connection to Jesus; neither will I.

I remember when God seared John 15:5 into my soul as I was participating in a Bible study called Experiencing God. The Spirit began to gently unravel my stubborn independence and move me to a deeper dependence on Him.

Apart from me you can do nothing.

These words still arrest me making me humbly aware of my need to surrender and cling to the One who produces fruit in me. Often, I pray them back to Jesus as I step into the roles He has given me as I follow Him…Join me, Jesus, speak to me and though me, lead me, have your way, apart from you I can do nothing. On my not-so-great days, I barge forward forgetting my source and find myself uttering a prayer of confession…Jesus, forgive me for taking this all on myself, I didn’t pray, I didn’t wait on you.

I want to bear fruit, don’t you? I want to live a life that points to the One I cling to. As a flower expert can immediately recognize a Dahlia bloom, I want people to recognize I follow Jesus because I bear fruit that is rooted in Him…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I also want to bear abundant fruit. Did you know the more you cut Dahlia flowers the more blooms they produce? I didn’t, until I Googled it. We are the same. We can lean in to the pruning. God is a gentle gardener we can trust with the snips and setbacks. He is making us into a glorious garden.

Cling to Jesus, friends.

Dwell in Him.

Depend on Him.

Stay connected to the Vine and fruit will come.

Shelly Eberly

August 9 – Perseverance – When things go wrong

Read James 1:2-4

Throughout this series, we have read about the many areas that we are called to persevere through. You may find yourself relating to some topics more than others, but I think it’s important to read and study about what to do, in general, when things go wrong.

On June 14, 2019, Kelly and I were preparing to put Mattie (who was 2.5 years old at the time) down for a nap. We had just gotten back from the hospital where my Grandma was in hospice. We planned to head back after Mattie got up as his naps are important (as any parent knows).

Kelly was about to take Mattie downstairs when mom called. Thinking nothing of it, I picked up.

“Hey, Momma.”

“Honey, you know I love you, right?”

My spirit dropped.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Your grandma is with Jesus.”

I have tears in my eyes writing this as I recall the initial wave of grief that came over me. My entire life, Grandma was an incredible source of joy and comfort. I remember calling her and Grandpa as a little boy and talking with them for hours.

Kelly stayed with Mattie as I drove back to the hospital, meeting my brother in the lobby. As we embraced, the tears started.

In the days that came, we were confronted with very real grief and pain.

I love the book of James. In chapter 1, we read a few verses about how our faith can become stronger:

“…because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

It’s easy to ask, “Why God? Why would you allow this to happen? Why would you take her from us? Sure, she was sick, but why now?”

The testing of your faith produces endurance.

As our family gathered around Grandma’s body in the room, Dad re-centered all of us and said that, if you were in the room when she passed, you were on holy ground because she was taken to the feet of Jesus from the spot where she laid. We were challenged to “be a Lawson” as Grandma was THE example: passionately worship God and love unconditionally.

I feel like I cried for days.

The testing of your faith produces endurance.

We knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Grandma was healed of all her pain and worshiping her Savior who she spent a lifetime serving.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Not one member of our family is complete in their faith. But I can tell you that my faith grew as a result of Grandma passing. I grew closer to God because of the hope that He offers us through His death and resurrection from the dead, paying for the price of sin that I deserved to pay.

As you read this, I challenge you to ask yourself how you respond to life when it takes a turn for the worse? How do you react when Jesus seems so far away? Do you wallow in the pain or do you lean into the grace and peace of Christ?

It’s hard. Believe me, I know.

However, I can tell you, when you look back over a time in your life where you leaned in rather than drifted away, you know that your faith grew a little stronger and you grew more into the person God created you to be.

Lean in to Jesus today!

Jake Lawson

June 6 – Tips for Everyday Life – Be fair

Read James 5:1-6

As I read through James 5:1 – 6, I’m reminded of the Dickens story A Christmas Carol. We have an old video tape of a movie version entitled Scrooge, starring Alistair Sim as Scrooge. This is the best one I’ve seen.

You know the story, Scrooge is completely self-absorbed and his whole life is about his money and wanting to get more. It doesn’t matter to him that he takes advantage of people like Bob Cratchit. He’s not concerned about being fair but only gaining more wealth.

Then he’s visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley and the three spirits. In the version we have, he clearly repents, turns to Christ and is saved. We see a complete transformation where he now takes great joy in giving raises and gifts. With the change that has occurred within him, he’s in a position to start repairing relationships and humbly asks for forgiveness.

He has been freed from the chains holding him down and is absolutely full of joy.

I love seeing positive life change!

Back to James, I’m convinced the wealthy people he’s addressing are not followers of Jesus and he doesn’t seem to have any hope for them. They’re not guilty because they are wealthy, they are guilty because of what they do or don’t do with their wealth.

Their crimes are:

  1. That they have hoarded wealth and not put it to work for the benefit of others
  2. They have acquired wealth by cheating others
  3. They are living in luxury and self-indulgence with no regard for others
  4. They have even murdered innocent (righteous) men. Think Jesus, Stephen and ultimately even James the author.

As followers of Jesus Christ we have been given much, especially in this country. It’s OK to enjoy what God has given us but we also need to put it to work to help others. I’m thinking of material things but also, and perhaps more importantly, spiritual things.

We’ve been given the cure for eternal death!

Will we just keep it to ourselves or will we share it with others who haven’t yet come to know Jesus Christ?

Just like Scrooge, we can experience great joy when we put others first and share with them the blessings we have received, while treating them as we want to be treated.

It’s an incredible testimony to a lost and dying world!

Mike Molter

June 5 – Tips for Everyday Life – Be wise

Read James 3:13-18

I noticed at an early age that I’m not quite as quick thinking as most. I wanted to dazzle my peers with wisdom but typically, if my teacher called on me, I would be startled out of a daydream and utter, “Ummm….what was the question again?”

My grades were acceptable but not impressive. I went to college but only lasted one semester.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the Bible? Have you ever felt like you can’t keep up with other Christians in their knowledge? Do you have trouble digging out spiritual truths on your own? Have you ever felt like you’re just not smart enough to ever be considered wise?

I have good news for you.

It doesn’t matter if you have your doctorate or if you were always a bit behind in school like me. It doesn’t matter if you’ve led an exemplary moral life or if you’ve got some skeletons in your closet. James 1 tells us that God gives wisdom generously to all, without finding fault, if we’ll just believe He can and will!

God levels the playing field and reminds us we are all in the same humble boat. We’re all sinners in need of forgiveness. We’re all confined by our finite understanding until God grants us a glimpse of His infinite wisdom.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Prov. 11:2)

The Holy Spirit, the embodiment of God’s wisdom, is a gift we receive upon our salvation. No longer are we held captive by our strengths or limitations regarding wisdom. We aren’t left to our own understanding but now have access to the wisdom of God. I love these words from Paul in Colossians 2, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Our God is indeed generous.

When Jesus was accused of being a drunkard, glutton, and hanging out with the wrong people, He said, “Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Jesus and James 3 give us the perfect picture of what the deeds of wisdom look like. What a great tool to help us evaluate how we’re doing in this area of our lives.

In verses 13-18 we learn that not only does wisdom stem from humility but also that humility grows out of wisdom. Wisdom from heaven is pure which means true. Are you spending more time seeking God’s truth than the world’s information that we have at our fingertips in our pockets and purses? Are you striving to gain wisdom to elevate yourself or are you surrendering to godly wisdom for His glory? If your life is full of godly wisdom, it will radiate from your life in a peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, sincere kind of way.

And then my favorite…

A person that embodies the wisdom of God scatters abundant seeds of peace wherever they go, reaping a harvest of righteousness.

What kind of ‘crop’ are you sowing?

Shelly Eberly

June 4 – Tips for Everyday Life – Watch your mouth

Read James 3:1-12

Speak life.

In the 2016 movie Miracles From Heaven, actress Jennifer Garner portrays the role of a dedicated Christian mother who loves her daughter and her family. This compelling drama is about the true story of her young daughter who had a near-death experience.

One scene showed the family worshiping at their church on a Sunday morning and the praise band was Third Day, one of my favorite bands. They were singing the song YOUR WORDS, which is about the Word of God:

“Your words give us life that’s never ending,

Your words bring us love that never fails,

Everything else will fade away

But what will remain

Are Your words…”

The word of God gives us life, love and awareness of little things like the human tongue.

Can you and I speak like God speaks in the Bible and speak life, love and encouragement to others? Let’s intentionally try to do that and withhold discouraging words!

Paul says in James 3:1-2, “Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards.” A teacher can speak life through encouragement and being positive or a teacher can literally speak death. Teachers need to make an effort to encourage and recognize positive aspects of people’s lives. Examples of teachers are mothers, fathers, pastors, uncles, aunts, coaches, employers, neighbors and many others. You influence people positively or negatively with your words.

Ted Ginn Jr. had a learning disorder and grew up in Glenville, Ohio near Cleveland. His sixth-grade teacher called him out in front of a class at Forest Hill Parkway, insisting that he spell a word. “But I couldn’t,” recalls Ginn. “So he told me, in front of the whole class, that I was going to flip hamburgers my whole life.”

Some young people may have trouble recovering from those words. That is exactly what a teacher SHOULD NOT say. (And there is nothing wrong with a job flipping hamburgers).

Finally, in eighth grade, Ginn was placed in a special program that gave him the tools he needed to learn. “Once he was comfortable in the classroom,” says his father, “the real Ted could come out.”

The real Ted had supportive and loving parents and was a once-in-a-generation athlete. Ginn was a standout track athlete for the Glenville track team and was a solid B student at Ohio State where he played football.

My favorite coach was John Wooden, who said that “Little things make a big difference.” This includes a bit in the mouth of a horse, a small rudder on a huge ship and your tongue. It includes the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32, the Lord’s approval of the widow who gave her last two coins in Mark 12:41 and the little boy’s lunch in John 6:9.

Are you aware of the little things that make a big difference?

Do you speak life?

Tom Weckesser

June 3 – Tips for Everyday Life – Examples of faith with action

Read James 2:20-28

In 1980 I spent 2 weeks in the hospital in Akron, recovering from back surgery. That experience I would be happy to forget except for my encounter with a petite lady named Marge in the bed beside me. Marge had been bedridden for several years with brittle bone disease. She had to be very careful because just a cough or a sneeze could cause her to break a bone! Simply rolling over in bed for her was life threatening.

Needless to say, for Marge to have a good night’s sleep was more of a dream than a reality. Consequently, she would catnap throughout the day and stay awake most of the night.

Marge could have been bitter.

Marge could have thought, “What is the point? “

But she didn’t! She knew the Lord and a disease was not going to stop her from putting her faith into action.

Since she was awake most of the night, she had a CB base setup beside her bed and all night long she would monitor the calls from truck drivers, helping them out with directions, giving them advice, talking to them to keep them company or to keep them from falling asleep at the wheel – sharing her faith in a gentle way to people who might be hurting.  Touching the hearts of these men and women behind the wheel with God’s love was her mission right there from the bed that held her prisoner. Most of the drivers she had never and would never meet in person, but that didn’t matter to Marge.

A couple of months after being released from the hospital, I got to go visit Marge at her home.  Sure enough, there beside her hospital bed in her dining room was the CB monitoring equipment she used to spread God’s love. But also beside her bed was something else that caught my eye and was her inspiration. It was a large framed picture of Jesus. From a distance it looked just like an ordinary picture of Christ.  But when I looked closer, I realized it was really a puzzle that was actually made up of hundreds of faces.  Some were faces of people easily recognized like Martin Luther King Jr and John Kennedy, but many of them were of ordinary people like you and me.  All of those pictures put together made up the larger image of Christ.  The picture fittingly was called “In His Image.”

I will never forget that picture and I will never forget Marge and her dedication to putting her faith into action. When I think of Marge, I see Christ.  When I think of Christ, I see Marge among the other saints in that picture.

We, as believers, make up the image of Christ that He needs the world to see.

Do your actions reflect Him to your friends and coworkers, even strangers?

Will your face be included in the next version of “In His Image?”

Pat Arnold

June 2 – Tips for Everyday Life – Back up your faith with action

Read James 2:14-19 

About 5 years ago, area schools started installing buddy benches. The idea behind them was, if a child didn’t have anyone to play with, he/she could go sit on the bench and then, when another child saw them sitting there, they were supposed to go over and ask them to play or just go sit with them to keep them company.  Often teachers would congratulate the child who befriended the lonely child. However, how much more courage did it take for the 1st child to go and sit on that bench and to admit they were lonely, were without a friend to play with, or wasn’t in the “in crowd?”

What does an adult buddy bench look like?  After Hurricane Katrina, we were privileged to be able to go down and help put the finishing touches on a house that our church had helped rehab. Along with working on the house, we got to tour New Orleans and the surrounding area.  As we walked from place to place, there would be people sitting on various benches here and there.  A group of us would walk along, talking and looking at the sights.  Occasionally we would stop and realize our pastor wasn’t with us.  Time and time again, we would retrace our steps and would find him sitting on a bench beside a complete stranger, talking to them and finding out about THEIR lives and how the hurricane had affected THEM!  Then he would pray with them.  Often that would be followed with huge hugs, sometimes tears, followed by lots of smiles!  It wasn’t only the material things that had been broken and destroyed in the storm but their hopes, dreams and sometimes even their faith had cracks in them. We had gone down to repair the material things that were lost but, for many, it was the spiritual side of life that needed to be repaired!

Many people, not only children, are hurting all around us every day.  It is too bad we don’t have a “Buddy Bench” in life to go and sit on and quietly say “Help Me!” It is up to us, as believers, to be aware of hurting people around us, to look for that person who isn’t in on the conversations, maybe sitting by themselves, hurting inside but too afraid to ask for help.  Maybe they just need us to go sit beside them, keep them company and let them know that we care; and, by US putting our faith into action, THEY will see that God cares!

Jesus didn’t bleed and die on the cross for us to only sit in a pew every Sunday and then check that off of our list of things to do for the week! Jesus told His disciples to GO! The word “go” is an action verb.  Faith in Christ requires action on our part.

Does your faith have action attached to it? If not…why not?

Pat Arnold