May 20 – Extraordinary Women of the Bible – Mary

Read Luke 1:1-56

What does it mean to be blessed? It is a word that is used often nowadays, often on social media.

A New Home? #Blessed.

Unexpected bonus? #Blessed.

College Scholarship? #Blessed.

We may pray that God will bless our family. We talk about our undeserved gifts as “God’s blessings” and we talk about ministries being blessed.

So, what does it really mean?

Scripture shows that a blessing is anything God gives that makes one fully satisfied in Jesus (see Matthew 5:3-12) and that draws us closer to Him. Many times, it is the struggles and the disappointments which allow us to get closer to God. God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed.

Mary was blessed. She was a poor virgin from a small village in Galilee. The way she responded to the angel (Gabriel) was in humility and faith. She was OK with God’s plan for her life, although it included suffering. At times, she must have been confused and full of fear as her life‘s events happened. After all, she was human. But, she was the mother of Jesus. Can you think of a greater honor? Luke writes about Mary’s amazing and humble hymn of praise – Mary’s Song – to God for the blessing of being the mother of the Messiah.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed…”Luke 1:46-48

The New Testament gives us all the reliable information that we have about the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was descended from David, and Christ, as to his human nature, was a descendent of David (Romans 13, Acts 2:30, 2 Timothy 2:8).

Mary was distinctive in human history. She was “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42), and among men as well. She received the gift of being the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:43), who grew inside of her body in human form. Mary appears in Matthew 1 and 2 in the infancy story. She appears at Cana in Galilee when Jesus miraculously turned water into wine in John 2:1-12. She appears at the cross in John 19:25-27 and in the scene in the upper room in Acts 1:14.

The angel told Mary that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Certainly, bearing and raising the Christ child was an incredible favor and blessing. Mary was blessed among women, despite the negatives. She was an extraordinary woman.

Mary was blessed by the journey she was on. How are you blessed on your journey? Like Mary, what are some circumstances that you can and should trust the Lord’s provision for? Even through the trials of life, God is faithful and will bless you as you rely on Him.

Tom Weckesser

May 19 – Extraordinary Women of the Bible – Hannah

Read 1 Samuel 2:1-10

There once was a woman who was steadfast in her faith and was loyal to the Lord and loved her husband. However, there was sadness in her heart. She was barren. For many years she could not conceive. She went before the Lord and surrendered all she had and promised Him her son if He would bless her womb.

The Lord answered her prayer.

I take away a lot of things from Hannah’s story. She walked faithfully with the Lord and believed He was who He said He was and served Him, despite the heartache and discontentment she experienced. Hannah knew that she could be raw and real and bring all of her hurt, pain and heartache to the Lord. There is a trust exchange between Hannah and the Lord.

Hannah has always been one of my favorite women of God’s word because. . . how many of us can relate with the principle of surrender and servanthood that Hannah displays?

When the Lord fulfilled her prayer and gave her Samuel, she did the one thing that I think would be hard for any mother to do: she gave her son back to the Lord to serve Him all his life.

Could you do this? Could I?

Twelve years ago, a great friend went on “The World Race”. This is a mission field where a group of people go to 11 different countries for 11 months. I remember sitting with my friend’s mother, inviting her to express her worries and fears with her daughter’s travels. She looked at me and simply said, “I may be afraid, but she was His before she was mine”.

You see, any parent would have an incredibly hard time surrendering their child to the unknown, but here is a woman who trusts in the Lord that she fulfilled her promise to not be in her son’s everyday life.

Hannah is an extraordinary woman because of the heart of surrender she displays and the trust exchange she has with the Lord.

I have to ask myself and, even ask you, when you read Hannah’s story, what do you see? What characteristics of her life and her love for the Lord speak to you? What in her story causes you to pause and look at your own life?

Take a moment and evaluate your life. Do you truly believe that everything belongs to God first?

Kelly Lawson

May 18 – Extraordinary Women of the Bible – Ruth

Read Ruth 1:16-18

The four chapters of Ruth are a beautiful depiction of hope, faithfulness and loyalty. If you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to read the entire book and learn more about the faithfulness of God.

The book centers around a woman named Naomi. Through some tragic events, her husband and her sons pass away and she is left with her daughters-in-law. Based on Naomi’s prompting, one of the daughters leaves back for her hometown. Ruth, however, stays.

When Naomi encourages her to leave again, Ruth responds with inspiring words of loyalty:

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”

When she was rightfully able to leave for a more comfortable life, Ruth chose to stay with her mother-in-law and not allow her to be lonely and isolated.

How loyal are you to those that are most important to you?

What all are you willing to walk through with them? To what extent are you willing to encourage them and point them back to Christ?

As you read on through the rest of Ruth’s story, you will see that God remains faithful to her and blesses her. It’s even through her blood line that Jesus would eventually come.

How about that for faithfulness?

Throughout this devotional series, you will discover a clear theme of the Lord’s faithfulness and blessing to those who are in Him.

To take loyalty a step further, to what extent are you loyal to God?

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.”

How often do you find yourself attached to Jesus’ hip, fully surrendered to His plan and direction for your life? When this life gives you an “out”, what is your response?

The Bible guarantees you that, if you remain faithful to God and submissive to His will, you will receive protection and blessing forevermore.

Jake Lawson

May 17 – Extraordinary Women of the Bible – Rahab

Read Matthew 1:5-6 and Joshua 2:1-25, 6:20-25

There was a boy who made a boat and was pleased with it.  He took it to the creek to watch it float.  But the current in the creek was too strong and took the boat away.  A few days later, the boy walked by a second-hand store.  In the window the boy saw his boat.  He went home and emptied his piggy bank to buy back his boat.

This is a story of redemption.  The boy regained possession of his creation in exchange for payment.  This is exactly what God did for each of us.  We were created by Him.  He was pleased with His creation.  But the “world” carried His creation away, He redeemed/bought back His creation through His Son.  In today’s passage, Rahab experiences God’s redemption:

In Jericho — Joshua 2:1-11

Rahab lived in the walls that surrounded Jericho.  She risked her life hiding spies sent by Joshua to survey Jericho.  Rahab’s statement of faith in Joshua 2:9-11 reveals her commitment to God rather than to man.

Verse 9 –

“I know that the Lord…”  Rahab knew there is only One True God. 

“…given you this land…”  Rahab knew Israel was His chosen; Jericho was God’s to give. 

Verse 11 –          

“…the Lord your God…”  Rahab knew that God is a personal God who works on behalf of those who trust Him.

“…God of Heaven and earth” Rahab knew that He is Lord over all

Rahab, in verse 10, had heard of His miracles, but had not seen, and she believed. 

In her house — Joshua 2:12-25

Rahab invited her family to come into her house, escaping destruction and death.  By accepting her invitation, they would experience life.  The waiting was probably hard.  Not knowing the day or time of the coming destruction.  But they waited expectantly for deliverance.  Christ has extended an invitation to you to “come in.”  He has promised He will return and, by accepting His invitation, you will receive life. This is an invitation to be redeemed.  While we wait for His return, who do you need to invite to “come in?”

In Israel — Joshua 6:20-25

The trumpet sounded, the army shouted, and the walls of Jericho collapsed. However, the section of wall that Rahab and her family were in, did not fall. God’s first priority was not altering her circumstances, but altering her heart.  Rahab and her family remained in the house in Jericho where they probably heard the destruction around them. 

God did not change Rahab’s circumstances, He changed her heart.  Rahab’s faith in God lifted her out of her circumstances:

“…she lives among the Israelites to this day.”Joshua 6:24b

You were created for God’s pleasure.  The “current of the world” took Rahab far from God.  Romans 3:23 says that we all have sinned.  We have all drifted away from our Maker.  He knows, He sees you drifting. Through the blood of His Son Jesus, we have been redeemed, He has bought us back. Rahab heard and believed in the work of God.  This Gentile woman, a sinner, is listed in the lineage of Christ.  She was redeemed and God will do the same for you. 

You have now heard!  Will you choose to believe and, as Rahab did, confess with your mouth that He is LORD?

Janene Nagel

May 16 – Extraordinary Women of the Bible – Sarah

Read Hebrews 11:11 and Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

When God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 12, telling Him that he would be the father of a great nation, there was one big issue: Abraham was well past the typical age that you would have kids with his wife, Sarah, being well past the child bearing age.

As you read through the story of Sarah, there are definitely ups and downs. There are times when they believed in God’s promise and there were times when they tried to take matters into their own hands and made a huge mess of things.

Sarah’s story can be summed up by “hoping against hope”. Even when it didn’t make sense, at the end of the day, they submitted to God’s plan and they were blessed as a result. God is faithful and will keep His promises to us. Sarah believed and was blessed.

After reading Sarah’s story, you may find yourself thinking of areas in your life that you are hoping against hope. You may want, so badly, for something to happen and you are beginning to have your doubts.

What Abraham and Sarah had to understand was that God operates from a whole different perspective than us. He knew what His plan for mankind entailed and knew what needed to happen for that to take place. He knew that Sarah would bear a son and that all of Israel, His chosen people, would follow.

He knew it. All of Heaven knew it. On earth, Sarah laughed.

What seems impossible in your life? God is not a genie who’s going to grant all your wishes exactly how you ask them. Instead of thinking like that, I encourage you to consider changing your perspective and focus on truth.

What does God say in His Word about your circumstances? What promises has He already made?

The rubber meets the road when you have to decide if you are fully going to surrender your situation to God. Are you going to allow Him to fully control what the outcome is?

“…she considered Him faithful who made the promise.”

Do you consider God faithful? Do you trust that He will come through where He promised He would?

God is faithful…even when we struggle to believe.

Jake Lawson

May 15 – Extraordinary Women of the Bible – Eve

Read Genesis 3:1-24

This chapter is a very well known one in the Bible as, through it, we discover the impact that sin has on the world. Before this chapter, Adam, Eve and God were living in harmony in the garden of Eden until they went against God’s will and ate from the tree from the knowledge of good and evil. As a result, they were banished from the garden and, from chapter 4 throughout most of the Bible, sin wreaks havoc on the world.

What makes Eve extraordinary isn’t the first sin she committed, but what came after.

We read swift and heavy punishments as a result of their (Adam, Eve and the serpent) sin. God made it clear that life would never be the same and that their sin would have ripple effects on generations to come.

The issue wasn’t just that she and Adam took from the tree they were forbade to eat from. On a deeper level, their issue was that they compromised their faith, the truth of God and allowed the serpent to talk them into second guessing what God had said.

However, the story doesn’t stop there. Adam calls his wife Eve because, according to verse 20, she would become the mother of all the living. It would be, through Eve, that the rest of the world would come about.

In the midst of so much sin, darkness and death, God gives promises of life and, even, salvation. In verse 15, God tells the serpent that he will strike the heal of her offspring (Jesus) but that He would crush his head indicating that, through Jesus’ death on the cross, sin, evil and Satan would be overthrown.

What can we learn from the story of Eve…other than what not to do?

Looking back, their issue was compromise. They allowed the words of someone else to trump those that God had given them. As you look over your life, where are you making compromises in your faith? In what way are you not fully surrendering yourself to God? Are you allowing sin to slowly enter into your life unchecked?

The story here, and throughout the Bible, is clear. Sin will be punished. We must trust God’s words above all.

Where are you making compromises? What are you going to do to focus on the truth of God’s Word to fight that temptation?

Also, take a moment to reflect on Genesis 3 and the promise of life that came as a result of it. Thank God for His mercy and grace.

Jake Lawson

May 14 – A Changing Culture – Honesty/Integrity

Read Luke 16:10 and 1 Peter 3:10-12

“Honesty and Integrity are absolutely essential for success in life, all areas of life. The really good news is that anyone can develop both honesty and integrity.”

Zig Ziglar

Would you say this is true?

For me, I believe that anyone can develop both of these attributes but, for the most part, it takes divine intervention and life change to cause the two to build and prosper. Once built, it takes prayer and practice to continue. 

In both my professional and personal life, I pride myself on honesty and integrity. This was not always the case. Before I started following Jesus, I didn’t put much stock in honesty or integrity. I wasn’t very dependable and really only did what I wanted and got away with it a lot of the time because honesty wasn’t something I really cared about or what the ramifications were. Then I met the Lord, I started following Jesus and listening to His Word, and practicing the holiness of what it meant to be different from the world around me. 

The Lord showed me, little by little, that being honest with those around me sets me apart from most and adds value to not only my work ethic but also my relationships. He showed me that integrity is something that takes a lot of surrender and that the actions and words coming from my life bleed into who I am performing for.

If my life is to honor Jesus, then it should be an audience of One. 

As Luke reminds us, what we do with little, we will do with much. No matter the tasks at hand or circumstances that surround us, how we act with any scenario changes how people see us. Do they see Jesus within your life?

The past year has been an extremely difficult one for me at work. With a lot of transition and a lot of changes, it would have been easy for me to just take the easy road and do the bare minimum to get by. However, because the Lord has instilled within me integrity, I am able to surrender my own selfishness and work for the audience of One and show that I am different in my work ethic.  The Lord instilled within me honesty, and, because of that, I am to stand tall with knowing I am doing all that I can do and make sure that I am as true to the job as I can be. 

Whether at work or in your personal life, have you ever not had integrity or were not honest? How did you feel after? What ramifications came from it? How did you start seeing yourself? The bottom line of these two attributes is that they honor the Lord and show respect to those around us. 

Peter mentions that the Lord sees righteousness, right standing, and, in that, we become more like Jesus and less like the world. 

And that is the goal – to be different, to be set apart. 

May we be different than the culture around us and stand on integrity and honesty to set us apart from the rest.

How are you going to do this, starting this week?

Kelly Lawson

May 13 – A Changing Culture – Work

Read Colossians 3:22-25

On my way to work one day, I noticed multiple signs in front of businesses, factories, and restaurants advertising the fact that they were “Now Hiring.” If you go to a restaurant today, you may not only see the sign inviting applicants but you may also experience the reality of the need for more workers. There are often longer wait times or “drive thru only” options. For some employers, the problem is larger than just finding willing applicants. They struggle to find workers who can pass a drug test or who will show up for work for more than a few days.

The unchanging Word of God gives work instructions for God’s people in our changing culture. Here are some clear principles:

  1. God created us to be workers. Adam and Eve were given instruction to subdue the earth and rule over other living things (Gen. 1:28, 29). Even the Ten Commandments remind us that God created us for a rhythm of six days of work and one day of rest (Ex. 20:8-11). Of course, this work is not limited to gainful employment indicated above. It is demonstrated in countless ways.
  2. God designed us to work to provide for our families. Through both financial provision and compassionate care, we are to see that the needs of those closest to us are met (Ex. 20:12; 2 Thess. 3:6-10; 1 Tim. 5:3-8).
  3. God intended that we give our all when we work. Our boss is ultimately not a man or woman above us on a hierarchical org chart. We work for Christ! We should do so with gusto and in recognition of our accountability to Him (Col. 3:22-25).
  4. God planned that we give ourselves to His work. This is more than just the work we do to earn a living or to maintain a household. His work includes the ways we contribute to making disciples of the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). His work includes loving our neighbor as ourselves (Lk. 10:25-37). Paul tells us that we are to “always give ourselves fully to” His work (1 Cor. 15:58).

In the midst of a changing culture, Christ followers should be among those who work the hardest but maintain balance. They have an appropriate temporal and eternal perspective.

Does that describe you?

Steve Kern

May 12 – A Changing Culture – Hypocricy

Read Matthew 23:23-32

There is a big difference between solid wood and veneer furniture. Certainly, there is a difference in price as a piece made of oak through and through is more expensive than a thin oak sheet glued on to something cheap underneath. There is a difference in quality as, under the veneer, you often find some kind of particle board that is subject to swelling if it gets wet and to crumbling if it is hit.

In today’s reading, Jesus speaks pointedly to those in His day, who were merely veneered followers. Externally, one could see their attention to the smallest detail of giving, but internally they lacked a genuine heart of care and concern for others. Outside, they seemed clean and appealing, but inside they were all about selfish pursuits and pleasures. They were like beautiful tombs filled with the remains of the dead. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus expressed “Woe” to these veneered hypocrites.

You have probably noticed, but Jesus reserved some of His most critical words for those characterized by hypocrisy…this inconsistency between appearances and reality. But hypocrisy is not a problem unique to the first century. In fact, it is something that captures the attention of God and of our culture today when it is uncovered. Unfortunately, news reports go viral when prominent Christian leaders are exposed as money-hungry managers, substance abusing shepherds, power-hungry pastors, or adulterous elders.

Leaders aren’t the only ones who run those risks and face these pitfalls. The Father desires integrity and authenticity from every one of His children. And even though many unbelievers in our changing culture don’t embrace the person of Jesus, they often have an internal expectation that, as a Jesus-follower, you will demonstrate those two ingredients: integrity and authenticity.

So, if others were to cut below the superficial, the external, the visible aspects of your life, what would they find? Would it be solid oak through and through? Or would they discover something far different than what the surface seems to indicate? For God’s glory and for the sake of His gospel, be the same sincere Christ-follower in the recesses of your heart and life that is portrayed to others.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Ps. 139:23, 24)

Steve Kern

May 11 – A Changing Culture – Managing Money

Read Ecclesiastes 5:10 and Matthew 6:24

The subject of “money” is a tough one, especially for the Church. The Bible mentions several warnings of its temptations. Yet, we also know that money is a significant resource to help those in need and a natural effect of hard work and biblical perseverance.

So… to want money or to not want money?

My personal thought is that money in itself is not the problem; it is our desire toward it that gets us into trouble. Most people whose primary drive is financial gain lead themselves to their own suffering: arrogance, selfishness, elitism, loneliness, regrets of corrupted character, broken relationships from the sake of the pursuit. With a list like that, you’d think we would learn to stop our foolish desires toward money.

Ask a wealthy person and they will agree that “Money creates more problems than it solves.” Ask a financially strapped person and they will reply, “I will freely take those problems off your hands and not complain about it.”

I try to manage my outlook on money within two guidelines:

Never trade your calling or integrity for monetary gain. God will never ask this of you. Ever. In fact, you may be tested in very grey, minimal moments before given greater opportunity. I believe every success story of a Christian in business includes a moment where they had to say “no” when worldly logic would say “yes”. They must rise up and deny themselves an easy pass when even colleagues around them say “Don’t worry, no one will ever know” Make no mistake, there is no greater worship for those called into business than this moment. We are nothing different without our integrity. Stay strong.

Always remember that money does not buy happiness. No matter what I feel I want, God is all I will ever need. Happiness comes from being content. And, luckily, contentment costs us nothing. Rather, it is a hard-fought mindset that shouts to the world, “I do not need to need more!” There is something so freeing in that statement. Fight to find holy contentment.

If you are truly in need – be it food, shelter, clothing or medication – please reach out to us. That is what our church is here for.

If you do not need any of the above, take a moment to be thankful to God for all you do have, it’s more than most. If you live in plenty, pray about where you may be willing to deny yourself the next time you find yourself spending. There is nothing you can buy that feels better than giving!

Nate Torrence