Month: February 2019

Seek Him First

Matthew 23:36-39
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Valentine’s Day. Many celebrated with loved ones by sharing gifts, flowers, food, and enjoying the time together. Intentional focus on love and special moments seems to take a backseat throughout the rest of the year.

Have you noticed that we often take those that are most important to us for granted? That we fail to tell and show them how much we truly love them? It’s not intentional; it just happens, right?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines love for us: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Chapter 13 ends with verse 13: “And now these three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Today’s lesson is centered on loving God and loving others. Simple, right?  Jesus modeled it during His time on earth. He was a humble servant and, above all else, He loved His Heavenly Father and obeyed what He asked him to do (Philippians 2:1-11). As Christ followers, we are to imitate Christ’s humility. This is only possible when we surrender ourselves completely to God and are continuously filled and controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in every Christ follower.

Do you regularly seek God first in all things and ask for wisdom and understanding in how to deal with difficult people in your life? Do you consider the needs of others more important than your own? That may be the desire of your heart, but your flesh takes control and leads to actions that are contrary to how the Bible defines love. Denying self and taking up our cross daily is not easy. Jesus did not promise His followers it would be easy.

19-Devo-2.28Thought of the day: Over the course of the next week, make a commitment to God to seek Him first in all things and to put others’ needs ahead of yours. At the end of the week, pause and reflect on how your intentional acts of loving God and loving others made a difference in your life. Repeat the next week, and the next week.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess that I do not always love You with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and I do not love my neighbor as I love myself. Father, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, teach and guide me in understanding what it means to live this life in obedience to Your commandments.  In Jesus’ name and for his glory I pray. Amen.

Always the Right Next Step

Psalm 119:73-74
Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word.

The way we go through each day should be a reflection of the work God is doing in and through our lives. This all starts with recognizing that God is the Creator of all things and he crafted YOU with a purpose. God does not make mistakes and He calls His creation good; therefore, you are good. Acknowledge and then praise Him for that!

Once we can embrace that idea, we can begin to really lean into the unique calling and direction He has placed on our lives. We are called to obey God, so choosing to follow His word is the right start to understanding what he wants for you.

In this passage the Psalmist tells God, “give me understanding to learn your commands.” God wants us to understand His direction so that we can choose to walk in His way out of obedience. Sometimes obedience is choosing to do what’s right—even when it’s difficult—because we are going to trust in God’s plan above our own. We can trust Him because we know that His commandments are for our good and because He loves us.

Most often we don’t know what the full plan looks like but choosing to trust and obey God is always the next right step. Start here and ask Him to reveal what’s next. God will honor your faithfulness and provide direction as you continue to follow and put your hope in Him.

19-Devo-2.27Thought of the day: Consider any areas in your life that you are reluctant to trust God in. Have you done so out of fear? Are there any strongholds in your life that are gripping you and keeping you from following God in complete obedience? Consider that these are holding you back from living into the potential God has created you for and release them to Him.

Prayer: Holy God, thank You for creating me for a purpose. I choose to believe I am a miracle and you have a special plan for my life. Search my heart and help me see what areas I need to let go of and completely trust You with. Forgive any sin that is hindering me from Your purpose and help me to follow You and Your commands so that I may reflect a holy life.

Part of the Team

Romans 15:5-7
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

One Heart, One Mind, One Mission.

We are all on many teams in our day-to-day lives. Our families, jobs, sports teams, friend groups, etc. are all teams we are a part of. It’s probably a safe bet that you have a shared mission with each of those teams.

No matter what your team has set out to accomplish, if everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction, your chances of success are greater. There is a unique experience that comes from being part of a shared mission.

In Romans 5, Paul is encouraging followers of Jesus to be of the same attitude and mind. Paul knew God was doing something special through the church and that is still true today. When we unite with the purpose of helping people meet, know, and follow Jesus, amazing things happen.

In the Gifted series, we have spent time figuring out what gifts God has given us and how we can use them. We hope that you have been able to gain a better understanding of who you are and how God has designed you to impact the lives of those around you.

In the Bible, Jesus didn’t select certain followers to be on mission with Him; He sends all of His people out. What that means for us today is that everyone who says “Yes” and follows Jesus is given a mission to help others accomplish the same thing.

When it comes to Jesus’ mission, no one is too old or too young. No matter where we have been, what we have done, or what has been done to us, we all have a place on this team. God uses each of us to accomplish things that are much greater than we can imagine.

When we say yes to Jesus, we say yes to using the gifts He has given us for His glory. We are all gifted differently, but we all play an essential role in accomplishing God’s will.

19-Devo-2.26Thought of the day: What have you learned about yourself in the past few weeks? How can you use that to help others and glorify God? Take some time to list out what next steps you will take to help people meet, know, and follow Jesus.

Prayer: God, thank You for unity and uniqueness. Thank You that even though You have created me with different gifts, You have also created me to be of one attitude and one mission. Please help me to continue to learn about the gifts You have given me and how I can use them to help others meet, know, and follow Jesus.

Make a Plan

1 John 3:16-18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Being a follower of Jesus means you are constantly in pursuit of Him. You have a desire to grow deeper in your knowledge and understanding of His love for you and what He wants for your life. As you seek this out, you will become more desperate for Him in every way. Your need to be like Him won’t just be out of obedience, but out of a natural desire to want to please him.

This is why giving of yourself by serving others is a natural side effect to following Jesus. We aren’t to give of ourselves out of obligation, but out of a desire to be like Jesus. As the verse says, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

This can look very different for each of us, and as we’ve been studying through this series God has gifted each of us with unique talents and abilities. Those are the areas we should be leaning into and using to glorify God and to serve others. Perhaps you are naturally hospitable and opening up your home to others for small groups, dinners, or other gatherings is a natural way for you to serve others. Or maybe you’re skilled in a certain area and can offer your expertise to someone in need. You could offer free childcare to a couple needing a night out, bring a meal to someone, provide home repair or car services to your neighbor, and the list goes on and on.

No matter who you are, God has most certainly blessed you with unique abilities that can be used to bless someone else.

19-Devo-2.25Thought of the day: Consider your gifts and talents and think of ways you could uniquely give of yourself this week. List at least one person in your life that you’d like to serve this week and then make a plan to see it through.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for pursuing me and blessing me with these gifts. Thank You for showing me how to be more like You and help me to see opportunities where I can serve others with the gifts You’ve given me.

A First-Hand Experience

John 4:28-30; 39-42
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

We have all had a friend come and excitedly tell us about an event they experienced that was “so good you have to go see it.” Many times, we are skeptical. Even when they go into detail on how amazing the event was and how we must go with them to the next one, we are hesitant. Why? Because no matter what the event was, we are experiencing it through our friend; it is second-hand information.

In today’s verses, this woman was so excited about her encounter with Jesus that she had to share it with everyone she knew. Her experience with Jesus was so profound, she could not keep it to herself. Her friends may have reacted just like we do, with skepticism. But they went with her to see Jesus anyway. That is when their viewpoint changed. Instead of just hearing what someone else had heard and seen, they heard and saw for themselves. Experiencing Jesus personally changed their lives.

Which person are you in today’s story? Are you the excited women, eager to tell others about your experiences with God? Or are you her skeptical friends, who were invited to go see what this Jesus was all about? Either way, God wants us to experience Him personally, not just through others.

19-Devo-2.18Thought of the day: If you have been invited to a small group or a bible study, what is holding you back from going? God wants to move you out of your comfort zone to experience life with Him. Step out, you won’t regret it.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to step out of my comfort zone. Help me to share my experiences with You with others and to seek more of You every day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

God Uses Messy People

Acts 22:3-8
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.

Paul shared his hope, strength, and experience with coming to know Jesus some 20 years after his first experience with Him, while he was under arrest and there was an angry mob.

Think for a minute about how Paul, along with the other disciples, spent their lives sharing the good news with others and how you and I are following Jesus today partly because they did.

God uses normal, everyday people to share Jesus with others. He even uses people who act like Paul did prior to His encounter with Jesus—doing the wrong things, hanging with the wrong crowd, and being stubbornly convinced that Jesus was bad news for him, the Jewish people, and the Roman empire. God uses messy people to tell His story because that’s all He has to work with. Messy, broken people aren’t a problem—we are the whole point!

Paul’s testimony is all about the good news and the path he took to come to know the love of God.

Some of the pieces we can pull from his road to Damascus experience are:

1. Religion doesn’t equal reconciliation with God.
Paul is talking to a group of Jewish people. He was Jewish and had studied the scriptures, followed the rules of their religion, and was so passionately opposed to Jesus that he was killing and persecuting Christians. Paul could relate to the crowd because he once was them. There’s probably a little bit of Paul in all of us. We have incomplete or inaccurate information about how God feels about relationship and think that religion is the way to His heart. He simply wants our hearts. Paul is “preaching to the choir” that he used to sing in.

2. Salvation isn’t on our own merit or will power.
Salvation is through grace and mercy and Jesus alone. We cannot earn our way to heaven. We can never do or be enough of anything to be good enough. When God literally knocked Paul (still Saul at the time) to the ground, it wasn’t because Paul was on a winning streak. It wasn’t punishment, wrath, or judgement. It was unconditional love. Sometimes God has to do drastic things to get our attention.

3. We must be humbled before we can fully understand or receive His mercy.
Paul most definitely wasn’t headed to Damascus on a mission of mercy, and he didn’t have a humble heart. He was on a path to destruction and self-righteousness. Even though he didn’t follow Jesus or claim to know Him yet, he sure seemed to be afraid of what Jesus was doing. Instead of marching into Damascus the way he had planned, he was literally led by the hand because he was totally blind. He had to be humbled the hard way.

4. We are born with a purpose and we are saved for a purpose.
Paul went towards Damascus with a plan and an agenda. Jesus gave him a whole different agenda according to the calling that had been placed on his life before he was even born. Our job is to step into the purpose God has for our lives and allow His power to work in and through us. His plans rarely look like what we had planned or expected.

19-Devo-2.19Thought of the day: When was the last time you shared any of your experiences with Jesus to give hope to someone that needs to meet Him? What’s stopping you?

Prayer: Father God, thank You that You want to be in relationship with us. Help me to share my hope, strength, and experience with someone that doesn’t know You. Give me courage to step into Your purpose with humility and gratitude. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

It All Gets Used

Acts 8:1-6
And Saul approved of his execution. There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.

We’ve all had things happen in our lives that we are not proud about, whether it’s actions that we wish we could undo, words we wish we could unsay, or something else. No one is perfect outside of Jesus. Looking at the story of Saul (who later became Paul), it is certain he had regrets. This passage highlights the fact that the people who Jesus used didn’t have it all together.

It was a very dark time for those who followed Jesus, and at first glance this passage may seem bleak. It is full of rage, murder, and sadness. Saul, Phillip, and the church had no idea, but God was using it all for His good. As Saul scattered the church, they continued to tell others about Christ. They brought the gospel to places it had never been before. The church grew like wildfire. God used the pressure Saul applied to build His church.

Not only were the Christians of the day telling others of Christ, but they were relying on the Holy Spirit more than ever. They were no longer in the comforts of the church in Jerusalem. They were apart from those who helped them meet Jesus. Saul’s persecution of the church resulted in more people meeting Jesus, while those who knew Jesus had to depend on God more.

It is still like that in our lives today. We often go through circumstances we may not understand. We go through hardships and experience the reality that life is not fair. The good news is that God will use these experiences for His glory and our benefit if we let Him.

19-Devo-2.20Thought of the Day: What are some experiences or pressures in your life, past or present, that God wants to use to help you or others meet, know, and follow Jesus? Are there any experiences you still need healing from before God can use them for good?

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for using everything in my life to bring me closer to You and help others know You too. Help me remember that even when things seem out of control, you are working in and through me. Guide me to not just wait for the outcome, but to listen to what you are teaching me on the journey.

God Can Be Trusted Through It All

2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Have you ever been through a season where everything seems to be going wrong?

Paul, who penned the above passage, had many seasons like that. He had been arrested on several occasions, beaten, shipwrecked, tortured, and had some sort of “thorn in the flesh” that he prayed to be freed from but never was. So how does he respond? With faith and gratitude.

Paul was able to look back and see that through the trials he couldn’t rely on himself or his circumstances. He had to learn how to rely on God through the pain. And through that experience he learned that God could be trusted.

He also makes the connection between these experiences and prayer. Think about it. When do we pray more, when everything is going great or when things start falling apart?

Prayer is a language of dependence on God. If you are going through a tough season, declare your dependence on God to deliver you. If things are going great, thank God for this blessing. In all things, thank God and pray for His ongoing deliverance for you and for those around you who are going through a difficult time.


God Never Wastes a Hurt

2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

God never wastes a hurt. He also never wastes a happiness.

The things that we experience (the good, the bad, and the ugly) are to be used for the sake of helping others. When we face trials and challenges, God offers comfort through His Spirit, through His Word, and through His people. But the story isn’t meant to end there. We are comforted by these things so that we can comfort those who are going through something similar.

19-Devo-2.22Thought of the day: What challenges have you faced where you experienced God’s comfort? How might God use that experience to help others?

Prayer: God, help me to see where You have comforted me in the past. Give me opportunities to pay that forward in the future. Bring somebody to mind in the present who I can pray for to experience the comfort that You give. Amen.