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

June 1 – Tips for Everyday Life – No favorites!

Read James 2:1-13

What appropriate words for us today! We find ourselves in a time when the realities of racism have resurfaced. We live in a day when lines are drawn and rocks are thrown on the basis of political affiliation. We are part of an era of human history when judgments are made based on a person’s response to the risks of a virus.

Although the specifics of our situations may be unique, the more general attitudes of favoritism towards some and disregard for others is not new. We could identify dozens more if we traced this human tendency throughout history. And James makes it clear that even first-century Christians were not immune.

The divisive issue spoken of in this text was along economic lines. The rich were treated like royalty. The under resourced were ill-treated. The rationale likely seemed sound. To them, wealth may have appeared to have been a sign of God’s approval and blessing (Matt. 19:16-30). Meanwhile, the lack of it must have been proof of God’s displeasure. And besides all of that, their favored treatment of the rich may have well illustrated their aspirations for personal gain from them.

But favoritism and disregard on account of net worth are not appropriate according to verses 5-7. Even in the first century, those less resourced were often people of great faith. Even the early church’s own experience of oppression under the hands of the rich should have taught them a lesson.

Maybe your tendencies of favoritism towards some and disregard toward others have nothing to do with net worth. In speaking more broadly to the divisive issues of our day, James points to the fact that you must “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18; Lk. 10:25-37) Your neighbor is much more than the person who lives in the home next to yours. Certainly, that person is included. Your neighbor is the person you encounter in the course of daily living. Your neighbor is the person different from you. Your neighbor is the person in need, to whom you have opportunity to demonstrate kindness and help. Your neighbor is the person you have perhaps, in your mind, judged and possibly, with your actions, disregarded. Your neighbor is a person deserving of mercy rather than neglect.

Favoritism for some and disregard for others have no place in the Christian experience. Have they taken root in your life?

Steve Kern

May 31 – Tips for Everyday Life – Listen and then do!

Read James 1:19-27

Are you like me? Did you stock up on supplies and food when the pandemic first hit? Did you fill your pantry with non-perishable foods and paper products? Did you search for cleaning supplies so you could have a stockpile at the ready should you need it? We can be just like this with God’s Word. We listen and hear God’s Word in so many different ways — radio broadcasts, weekly sermons at church, books to read, music and podcasts. When we listen to all of these things, it is like we are stockpiling God’s Word. We are saving it up for some emergency.

Verse 22 urges us not to just stockpile what we hear and learn. Don’t hoard it. It instructs us to use it. Learn from what we hear and put it into practice. Just like stockpiling food and supplies, they are no good unless we use them to feed our families and clean our homes and work spaces.

When we load up on the essentials, but leave them on the shelf, they do no good. It’s like preparing a meal without eating it. It’s like threading a needle, but not actually sewing. It’s like inhaling, but not exhaling. What good does it do us to be filled with knowledge, but not use it?

This reminds me of when we were expecting our first child. Months in advance, we prepared a nursery. We had the crib put together and made up with special sheets and blankets. We read books about life with a newborn and received advice from many people about how to deal with the many changes that were headed our way. We chose to listen to most of the advice and nodded politely when we heard the same advice over and over. With all of these “how-to’s” swarming in our heads, we felt prepared…for the most part. Then, our daughter arrived. Our stockpile of information was quickly employed as we navigated these new waters.

It is the same with the knowledge we have of God. We can stockpile it, but it is not useful unless we use it. As Christians, we are meant to use the instruction we receive to demonstrate God’s love — caring for others, meeting the needs of our neighbors, and loving those who are sometimes hard to love. So go ahead and read and listen to God’s Word, then ask God to show you how you can put His Word into practice. What is something practical you could do today that would demonstrate God’s love?

Tammy Finney

May 30 – Tips for Everyday Life – Flee from sin

Read James 1:13-18

“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth . . .”

When Jesus’ brother, James, wrote these words, he wrote from the core of his own existence. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.1) I imagine calling himself his big brother’s servant didn’t just roll off the tongue. It took some pretty serious life-changing experiences to get him to the place where, upon writing a letter that would mark his own legacy, the only identifying word James would use to describe himself would be “servant.” Yes, James was God’s servant. He served his big brother, Jesus. This was how he chose to describe himself.

It’s important to note because it was out of the foundation of his true identity that James declared the truth about sin and it’s stealthy ways. It’s not from God. He only gives good gifts. He never changes. He will not tempt. In fact, a true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ knows that it’s his or her own messed up way of trying to live that drags him or her into anything that opposes God’s good and perfect way.

Sin. It doesn’t announce its presence or advertise its ways. I’ve never seen a bright yellow warning sign that reads “Sin ahead. Beware.” Rather, it sneaks stealthily, hooks us with an enticing “This seems better” and eventually drags us into a kind of living that has nothing to do with real life. Sin masquerades itself as the stuff of life we think we want or need. Like “venting” when someone does us wrong. Or shading the truth to protect our image. In fact, it starts with our own twisted solutions for the problem that can only be solved by the One who made us, the One who put eternity in our hearts so we could live real life.

So, flee. Don’t take the bait. Run like a zebra runs from a lion. Know who you are. Live out of the truth of who you serve. Filter each decision through the truth that the One True God who only gives good gifts wants you to live according to the word of truth. He gave you life. And through it, He shows you the way to live.

Bria Wasson